While LA Journalists Hid Under Desks, a Robot Wrote a Story About the Earthquake

Journalism robots might not be such a bad idea. Especially when you’re trying to stay safe after an earthquake.

KTLA earthquake

On Monday morning, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake hit Los Angeles. Here’s what happened on live TV:

KTLA St Patricks Day Earthquake 3/17/2014

The FOX crew also had a panicked few seconds, too. But while journalists were diving under desks, a robot was writing the news story about the earthquake. Will Oremus at Slate explains:

Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, was jolted awake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit “publish.” And that’s how the LAT became the first media outlet to report on this morning’s tremblor. “I think we had it up within three minutes,” Schwencke told me.

The story the robot wrote simply reports the location, magnitude and time of the quake, along with a note about recent quakes in the same area. (You can read the original text at Slate.) But it was published on the Los Angeles Times' site within a few minutes of the quake and was an accurate, timely report on what had just happened.

That’s how Schwencke sees the roles of robots in the newsroom. He told Oremus, “The way we use it, it’s supplemental. It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting.”

This shouldn't be a complete surprise: journalism robots have been in the works for a couple years now. And while there's been plenty of hand-writing about robot job-stealers recently—robots that are trying to get into collge robotworking retail jobs, or making coffee—as Schwencke suggests, robots-at-work might not actually be such a bad thing. Especially when you’re trying to stay safe after an earthquake. 


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