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General Election 2019: How computers wrote BBC election result stories

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General Election 2019: How computers wrote BBC election result stories

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Reeta Chakrabarti analyzed BBC television election results

For the first time, BBC News ran a story for all constituencies that declared election results overnight – all written by computer.

It was the BBC's biggest test of machine-generated journalism so far.

Each of the nearly 700 articles – most in English but 40 in Welsh – was verified by a human editor before publication.

The project leader said the technology was designed to improve service rather than replace humans.

"It's about journalism that we can't do with humans right now," said Robert McKenzie, editor of BBC News Labs.

"Using machine assistance, we generated a story for every constituency declared last night, except for the one that hasn't finished yet. That would never have been possible (using humans)."

Several news organizations are testing automated journalism as a way to cover data-based stories more effectively.

Technology can quickly produce numbers-focused stories like football results, company financial reports – and general election results.

  • Check any constituent for machine generated article

Overnight, the BBC generated 649 articles in English – one constituency has not yet declared its results – and 40 in Welsh.

Vauxhall: As Said by the Machine

Florence Eshalomi was elected Vauxhall deputy, which means that the Labor Party occupies the seat with a small majority.

The new MP beat Liberal Democrat Sarah Lewis by 19,612 votes. That was smaller than most of Kate Hoey's 20,250 votes in the 2017 general election.

Conservative Party Sarah Bool came third and Green Party Jacqueline Bond fourth.

Voter turnout has fallen 3.5 percentage points since the last general election.

More than 56,000 people, 63.5 percent of those eligible to vote, went to polling stations across the area on Thursday in the first December general elections since 1923.

Three of the six candidates, Jacqueline Bond (Green), Andrew McGuinness (The Brexit Party) and Salah Faissal (Independent) lost their £ 500 deposits after failing to get 5% of the vote.

This story about Vauxhall was created using some automation.

McKenzie said the articles reflect a "BBC style" because the choice of sentences can be programmed in advance by the BBC writers.

"As a journalist, you try to think of every conceivable permutation of a story in advance," he said.

"Then you write a template. The machine selects specific phrases or words in response to accurate data. So you can type everything, if you like, in" home style. "

Journalists from the BBC offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London checked the articles before publication.

McKenzie said one limitation of the system is that it cannot add analytics to articles.

Thus, in a small number of important seats, such as the Kensington constituency, human journalists added additional context.

"This clearly works only on data-based stories. It's not a technology that allows you to do any kind of analysis," McKenzie said.

"None of the stories have citations, none of them analyze what happened or what it means. It's just a written version of what happened based on the data. So that's a big disadvantage in terms of the quality of journalism."

The BBC has conducted a number of automated journalism experiments, generating dozens of localized stories about A&E wait times and publicly funded tree planting.

However, McKenzie said the BBC is still in the "early stages of understanding what the public wants from technology."

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