Editors' days are numbered

I've seen a report that tells me my days are numbered. It's a result of taking to the ultimate conclusion the technology that has made the editor's job progressively easier.

I’ve seen a report that tells me my days are numbered. It’s a result of taking to the ultimate conclusion the technology that has made the editor’s job progressively easier. If the editor’s role is sifting for nuggets of news in streams of information, why not replace him or her with a filtering device that can cope with ever greater volumes of information?

If you could do away with the arbitrariness of a fallible human’s judgement of newsworthiness, and install a machine to apply a set of rigid rules, which publisher wouldn’t?

According to the report I saw, publishers might actually soon have the choice. The report, by AFP, talked about “newsbots” taking over the filtering role of editors. The idea was aired at the World Association of Newspapers annual conference in Hong Kong last month.

The University of South Carolina (USC) is leading the charge in developing this technology, establishing a “newsplex” at its college of journalism and mass communications. USC and IFRA, an association of media technology providers, will co-manage the venture, which is expected to be operational in a few months. It will be a “micro-newsroom” (in Computerworld terms, that means macro — it will have a news team of 10 whole people) with a central desk to coordinate operations, including a variety of media, communications resources, mobile and video-conferencing and a database server farm that can access any format of news material.

Journalists will have the opportunity to do two-week stints at the newsplex, where they’ll not only observe how their editors will be made obsolete, but they’ll also get a dose of the even greater deadline pressures ahead of them.

An architect working on the centre says huge walls of greenery are being incorporated into the design to soothe the “highly strung” occupants. Extra stress will be applied to journalists of the future as they produce different editions of their publications for specific areas of interest. So look out for the Computerworld covering ASPs and the Computerworld full of open source content and the Computerworld catering for your entertainment needs (with in-depth coverage of the latest OS vulnerabilities and slipped product release dates). Naturally, these will be sent directly to the printer on your desktop or, if you are trying to save trees, sent as a file type like Adobe’s PDF (an even better tool in its fifth release, by the way).

I said the editor’s job has become easier. That’s certainly the case if the definition of editing is finding enough content to fill a certain number of pages. Faster and more extensive communications networks and computers that can effortlessly manipulate rich data types have brought this about.

It’s also true, as correctly identified at the Hong Kong conference, that as the flow of information has become a flood, collecting news nuggets has become a bit like sluicing away the hillside rather than patiently panning for gold.

Newsbots will replace editors, maybe, but journalists, as the main content providers, will be king. The ink-stained, hard-bitten hack variety, however, is just as much an endangered species as editors are. Future journalists, according to the scenario painted by the Hong Kong conference, will be “hyperactive whizz-kids capable of simultaneously surfing the net, watching TV, listening to music and talking on the phone”.

Those who can cope with the technological traumas imposed by the digital age.

If the editor’s consigned to oblivion, what I’d like to know is to whom readers will address their cross letters seeking redress for slights perpetrated by the whizzkid reporters?

Obviously, I’m forgetting something: with a machine in charge there will be no offence caused. I predict a reader rebellion.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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