These are strange days indeed. Approaching 30 London-based PA Media journalists are losing their jobs... to be replaced by robots! The Guardian
reports that the journalists have lost their jobs after Microsoft decided to replace them with artificial intelligence software.
The journalists, who will be seeking new posts in a very difficult jobs market, work on Microsoft News
, the USA-based company's news, sport and lifestyle website and app. They have been told that they are no longer required because robots can now do their jobs. According to The Guardian
: 'Around 27 individuals employed by PA Media – formerly the Press Association – were told on Thursday [28 May] that they would lose their jobs in a month's time after Microsoft decided to stop employing humans to select, edit and curate news articles on its homepages'. Microsoft's decision is part of a global shift away from humans in favour of automated updates for news.
reported: 'One staff member who worked on the team said: "I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI is going to take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job"'. He added that the decision to replace humans with software was risky, as the existing staff were careful to stick to 'very strict editorial guidelines' which ensured that users were not presented with violent or inappropriate content when opening their browser.
The team working on the Microsoft website don't produce original news stories but still exercise editorial control, selecting stories produced by other news organisations, including The Guardian
, and editing content and headlines where appropriate to fit the format. The articles are then hosted on Microsoft's website, with the tech company sharing advertising revenue with the original publishers. Manual curation of news stories also ensures that headlines are clear and appropriate for the format, while encouraging a spread of political opinions and avoiding untrustworthy stories, while highlighting interesting articles from smaller outlets.
points out: 'Other teams around the world are expected to be affected by Microsoft's decision to automate the curation of its news sites. In common with other news organisations, PA Media is facing tough financial challenges and has had to furlough some staff and ask others to take pay cuts. The company has expanded outside its traditional news agency business, recently buying stock image business, Alamy, shortly before the pandemic devastated the media industry'. A Microsoft spokesperson commented: 'Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others'.
The Press and Journal
) and The Courier
, the two major players in DC Thomson Media's stable, are the main partner in Scotland's first virtual agricultural event to be staged during the pandemic lockdown. The online Scottish Agricultural Show will be beamed on 3 and 4 July. The main sponsor, EQ Accountants, is a leading provider of services to Scotland's agricultural industry.
The two daily newspapers, which maintain a strong emphasis on agricultural news and views, are partnered by the Royal Highland Show in creating this groundbreaking virtual event, which, according to farming journalist, Nancy Nicolson, writing in the P&J
, 'will encompass all the essential elements for a great couple of days out'. She explains: 'DC Thomson is throwing all its weight behind organising Scotland's first virtual agricultural show, a move which the company's head of newspapers, Richard Neville, said was in response to a desire from readers and advertisers for a way of maintaining some sort of show presence this summer,' adding: 'Getting the mighty Royal Highland Show's unqualified support has been a huge boost'. Neville explained: 'We hope that all exhibitors and entrants enjoy the experience, and, hopefully, it will show that there can be a digital alternative to even the oldest and most traditional events in our packed agri-business calendar'.
A really uplifting coronavirus-related story reaches me featuring a well-known Scottish journalist's involvement in a project which ensures that hundreds of people, including those in care homes and sheltered housing, get a free copy and delivery of their local weekly newspaper. Media website, HoldTheFrontPage
), reports that Alasdair Northrop has helped set up the project which pays for copies of the East Lothian Courier
to be given free to vulnerable people.
Alasdair, who has worked as a tourist guide in Scotland for the past four years and has been left without work due to the pandemic, came up with the idea while working with his wife, Sue, a community councillor in North Berwick. Thanks to the scheme, backed by The Courier's
editor, Robbie Scott, 600 copies of The Courier
have now been paid for by community organisations for delivery to deserving vulnerable folk.
reports: 'Alasdair, who was editor of Scottish Business Insider
magazine for 15 years and business editor of the Manchester Evening News
for seven years before that, said: "I have been involved in newspapers for over 40 years, and even when I started out we were being told printed newspapers would be killed off by TV and radio within a short time. Over the years the numbers have dropped dramatically but for the time being, at least, there is a real need for them. There are lots of people out there who still enjoy reading a printed paper, in particular senior members of our community.
"Crucially, they provide essential information and keep people informed. So I am proud to have been involved in a scheme to support my local weekly newspaper. I hope other areas of the UK follow suit and this may be a way of saving the wonderful local newspapers which play such an important role in their communities".'
The idea came about after Sue set up a resilience group in North Berwick to deliver shopping and collect prescriptions for vulnerable people who were not allowed to leave their homes, with local groups communicating via email and WhatsApp. But Alasdair realised that many people were excluded because they did not have the internet and the only way they could find out about what was going on was through The Courier
Sue told HTFP
: 'The key thing was that we wanted to support our local newspaper but also not take away income from local newsagents. We tried to make sure the newspaper was not going to people who already had it delivered by their newsagents. We were also thinking about people who could not afford to buy it'. Editor Robbie Scott added: 'We're so grateful to these groups for supporting our communities during lockdown, and the amazing work they do inspires us to produce the best papers that we can. For them to also directly support us at a difficult time for all businesses is incredible and we thank them immensely'.
In the hundreds of thousands of words I have devoured on the controversy about Boris Johnson's chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his alleged breach of lockdown rules, I especially like the clarity which Oliver Duff, editor of the i
daily newspaper, has brought to this contentious affair in his 'Letter from the Editor' feature at the weekend. Oliver, most discerningly, wrote: 'During a pandemic, the Government's moral authority can save lives. Squandering that is a political crime because it is so costly. Mr Johnson is especially susceptible to opinion polls. He loses sleep over them. He struggles terribly with the unpopularity so common for holders of high office. Any political adviser is dispensable. The sooner Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings accept this fact, the sooner the Government can move on from the anger he [Cummings] has caused and try to repair the damage to its authority'.
Frank O'Donnell took up his new post on 25 May as editor-in-chief at Aberdeen Journals where he will direct the fortunes of the UK's top-selling regional daily newspaper – the P&J
– plus the Evening Express
. Frank, who has just relinquished the same role at JPIMedia Scotsman Publications Limited, told P&J
readers: 'It is a privilege to be here. To be a custodian of Scotland's oldest daily newspaper and one of the most trusted news brands anywhere in the world'.
He explained that the entire team of more than 80 P&J
journalists are working from home, pointing out: 'I have met many of my new colleagues this week, although only as a face over a computer screen. No handshakes or coffees together... But even through this medium, I have been overwhelmed by their dedication to the task, their relentless drive to explain the news, and their desire to bring the latest information to you,' adding, engagingly and optimistically: 'As a society we will definitely be poorer and more fragile as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. But perhaps we will also be happier, more connected and more thankful'. Nice one, Frank, for starters.