The Associated Press announced in an advisory to customers today that the majority of U.S. corporate earnings stories for our business news report will eventually be produced using automation technology.
Here, Lou Ferrara, the AP managing editor who oversees business news, explains how this leap forward takes advantage of new technologies to free journalists to spend more time on things like beat reporting and source development while increasing, by a factor of more than 10, the volume of earnings reports for customers.
Why is the AP doing this?
Like all media companies, AP is constantly reviewing what content it needs to provide to customers and the best use of its reporting resources. At the same time, we analyze the value of the content we produce in the marketplace.
For many years, we have been spending a lot of time crunching numbers and rewriting information from companies to publish approximately 300 earnings reports each quarter. We discovered that automation technology, from a company called Automated Insights, paired with data from Zacks Investment Research, would allow us to automate short stories – 150 to 300 words — about the earnings of companies in roughly the same time that it took our reporters.
And instead of providing 300 stories manually, we can provide up to 4,400 automatically for companies throughout the United States each quarter.
We believe technological automation will be a part of many businesses, including those in media. As part of its business relationship with Automated Insights, AP participated in the company’s latest round of investment financing with other strategic partners.
Does it mean we are no longer providing editorial coverage of earnings reports?
No. If anything, we are doubling down on the journalism we will do around earnings reports and business coverage.
We are going to use our brains and time in more enterprising ways during earnings season. Rather than spending a great deal of time focusing on the release of earnings and hammering out a quick story recapping each one, we are going to automate that process for all U.S. companies in the 4,400. (We are exploring whether we can automate earnings from companies outside the United States.)
Instead, our journalists will focus on reporting and writing stories about what the numbers mean and what gets said in earnings calls on the day of the release, identifying trends and finding exclusive stories we can publish at the time of the earnings reports.
AP’s staff breaks a lot of business news and obtains numerous exclusives throughout the year from many of the top companies in the world. We know that is what our customers want and we are going to deliver more of it through this process.
Are we eliminating jobs to do this?
No. This is about using technology to free journalists to do more journalism and less data processing, not about eliminating jobs. In fact, most of the staff has been receptive to the effort and involved for the past few months of discussion.
How does it work?
Zacks maintains the data when the earnings reports are issued. Automated Insights has algorithms that ping that data and then in seconds output a story. The structure for the earnings reports stories was crafted by AP with Automated Insights. All conform to AP Style, the standard of journalistic style.
The stories will be labeled as being produced automatically with material from Zacks.
As we begin using automation technology in July, we will check each automatically generated report and then publish to the AP wire. As we work out any problems, we hope to move to a model of more fully automating the reports and spot-checking the feed for quality control.
Will you be automating other parts of the AP report?
Interestingly, we already have been automating a good chunk of AP’s sports agate report for several years. Data comes from STATS, the sports statistics company, and is automated and formatted into our systems for distribution. A majority of our agate is produced this way.
By comparison, though, the earnings reports are produced into stories – not just data feeds. And we are looking at whether there are other things we should be automating in this way. Last football season, we introduced an automated NFL player ranking on the website for pro football that we host for newspapers. That ranking included automated text descriptions of player performances each week, which were produced by Automated Insights. We also are examining the potential for automating results stories for lower-audience sports.
When will the automated earnings reports be available?
We are planning to go live in July, and we will be paying close attention to all of the reports as we adapt to this new process. We will address any concerns or bugs, and then keep moving ahead.
Our hope is that customers will begin to see the benefits almost immediately through more breaking business news and an increased volume of earnings reports. Many customers will receive info for companies in their markets that they never received from AP before.