A newspaper in Japan is using AI to summarize news stories to get them out quicker.

The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun is working with Fujitsu to speed up its news updates. This is how it works.

By Tim Hornyak
Splice Japan

In another step forward for robo-journalism, a regional newspaper in Japan is rolling out an artificial intelligence system that automatically generates summaries of news articles for distribution across a range of media platforms.

The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun teamed up with Fujitsu, Japan’s largest IT services company, to create the software based on technology developed by Fujitsu Laboratories. Staff at the broadsheet have been producing summaries manually, a task that takes up to five minutes per article. The software creates summaries instantly and with greater accuracy than a different summarizing method that begins with the lead and stops when the word limit is reached, according to Fujitsu.

The system uses a combination of natural language processing and machine learning to pick out the most salient parts of the article, scoring each sentence in terms of importance.

During a trial, it was trained on a dataset of 2,500 articles from the newspaper as well as their manually compiled summaries.

“By pairing the original articles with the summaries and defining that as reference, or teacher data, we built an ‘important sentence extraction model’ that evaluates the content importance according to individual sentences, as well as a ‘sentence-shortening model’ that maintains sentence structure while deleting unnecessary words,” says Masato Yokota, a director at Fujitsu’s State Infrastructure and Finance Business Group.

The software can work with articles written in Japanese or English. It was built with a web API that can be easily inserted into the existing editorial workflow. A “summary” button activating the API was implemented into the editing screen for the paper’s cable TV news, Yokota said.

Shinano-Mainichi-Shimbun-summarization-AI
A screenshot of the AI system from its trial period shows the original article in Japanese (left), an automatically generated ranking of sentences by importance (center), and the summarized text (right).

Robots vs. Journalists

First published in 1873, the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun is one of Japan’s oldest dailies. Headquartered in Nagano, northwest of Tokyo, it claims a morning-edition circulation of 487,000 copies and distribution to 61% of households in Nagano Prefecture.

“The third-wave AI is set to become a trend of great relevance, and now is the time to make concerted efforts in improving the newspaper production workflow as well,” says Hiroshi Misawa, the paper’s managing director.

The Shinmai, as it’s known, plans to roll out the system in April for its cable TV news summary service, with an eye to speeding up news updates.

The summarizing AI joins a host of other automated news applications sometimes described as automated or augmented journalism. Heliograf, the Washington Post’s own news bot, produced about 300 briefs on the Rio Olympics of 2016, and has since covered U.S. elections and high school football games; it produced about 850 articles in its first year, according to Digiday. The Associated Press worked with AI firm Automated Insights to deploy software to cover earnings reports.

“Through automation, AP is providing customers with 12 times the corporate earnings stories as before (to over 3,700), including for a lot of very small companies that never received much attention,” AP global business editor Lisa Gibbs was quoted as saying in a 2017 report.

“With the freed-up time, AP journalists are able to engage with more user-generated content, develop multimedia reports, pursue investigative work and focus on more complex stories.”

Tim Hornyak

Tim Hornyak is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. He is the author of Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots. Follow Tim Hornyak on Twitter.

From this week

Platforms

Columbia Journalism Review takes a hard look at the journalism funding done by Facebook and Google.

There are millions of dollars going into this space. While many are happy to take the money on the table, others question the ethics behind it. “The British Empire wanted trains in Kenya and India to run well, too. So their concerns are sincere, but the effect is more often than not a deeper immersion in and dependence on these platforms.” Of course this isn’t an issue unique to the tech giants — grant-giving NGOs have also faced similar critics.
Columbia Journalism Review

Governments & policy

Tools

Trends

New Naratif put together a solid story on how the Muslim Cyber Army works in Indonesia.

If you haven’t heard of the MCA (no, not that MCA in Malaysia!), they have been spreading fake news and driving hate speech along religious and ethnic lines. Worrying trend, especially in a country that’s been fighting fake news factories like Saracen. What makes this one different? “MCA looks more ideological, has thousands of networks in different parts of Indonesia and therefore the destructive power of this group is greater than that of Saracen.”
New Naratif

Transformations

The New York Times is partnering with FX and Hulu on a weekly documentary series called…The Weekly.

It centres around stories from the Times and the journalists that work them. This comes hot on the heels of The Daily, their incredible podcast about one daily story from the Times newsroom. This is part of the Times’ ongoing foray into entertainment: A New York Times Magazine feature is going to be a Netflix documentary series, and Brad Pitt bought the movie rights to the story of how the Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story. Also coming: a four-part series for Showtime about the Times newsroom during the first year of the Trump administration.
New York Times

Media startups

Talent

Design

SilverKris, Singapore Airlines’ in-flight magazine, nailed it with their recent redesign by Ink.

I usually have the same attitude to in-flight magazines as I do to, say, a swift slap across the face: I’d really just rather not, thanks. But this reworked version was good enough for me to forget my Economy Class kneelessness, even though the cover is easily the most forgettable part of the whole redesign: a crowded image with no focal point. But here’s why I love this redesign: 1. The layout and typography have integrity in that they are led by the content. 2. The section fronts have bold, opinionated design. 3. The reading experience is immaculate — even though they crowd little surprise nuggets in the gutter. 4. The illustrations by Stuart Patience are delicious. 5. The writing isn’t all travel-fluff and doesn’t suck. 6. Those are some mad infographics skillz. Here's an interview with the Ink creative director.
The Design Air

The Malay Mail did a website redesign.

Load times were a priority, and the new site scores well on that front. The digital team also prioritised monetizing content and enhancing their “programmatic setup”. For me, this is translating into lots of badly-placed ads for pointless leather accessories in duplicate and Outbrain-forward sewage. They are testing a new section with Mandarin content for Malaysians working in Singapore, which says good things about their user research. Structurally, the website is fine, although better hierarchy on the home and story pages would be a good idea. (Also, those Open Sans headlines need some kerning; they’re w a y t o o l o o s e.) I’m impressed with how their head of digital responded to a question about the cost of the revamp: he said the company saw it as an investment rather than an expense. Respect.
Marketing Interactive

The article page is arguably the most vital page for a news website.

Getting it right across platforms is the Holy Grail. Last week, The New York Times took a giant step towards getting it right. This involved streamlining internal efficiencies on their CMS as well as a better user experience across mobile and desktop on web and native apps. Advertising also got a major overhaul: they killed their cluttered right rail of smaller banner ads for larger, full-width, midstream ads for a much cleaner read—and it’s working: “Ads on the new page are achieving twice the click-through rate of our old design, and initial studies show higher brand recall and four-times the reader attention to ads.” Read about the process here.
New York Times

“Hi, so did you hear that crazy phone call that, umm, the Google Duplex robot assistant made to the hair salon?”

She had the whole uptalk (ending verbal statements with that millennialesque question mark subconsciously designed to maximise responsiveness) thing going on? as well as an “mmm-hmmm?” and even an “er”? It wasn’t just how real it was that blew my mind; it was that the person on the other end of the phone was able to have a complete conversation without suspecting anything. I think the tech is amazing; I think the the whole construct is creepy. Would Turing give the bot full marks? Hear it for yourself.
The Guardian

Google’s Duplex bot will now identify itself as a robot on the phone.

There were some serious concerns that Google was putting the ‘dupe’ in Duplex: “Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing”. The company has clarified: “It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that.” What is it going to say, though: “Hey there, I’m Rishad’s bot assistant, so don’t be freaked out.”?
Twitter

Notables