Microsoft News is upping its use of algorithms for certain editorial functions, handing out lay-off notices to contract journalists in the US and UK. Machines have been working alongside Microsoft editors for some time, assisting with editorial tasks for MSN, Microsoft News apps, and pages on Microsoft’s browser, Edge. The layoffs signal a shift from AI systems augmenting journalistic tasks to replacing news jobs.
Multiple accounts say the functions being converted to algorithmic work include story selection and placement, optimizing headlines, and picking supplementary material, such as images. Microsoft says the move has nothing to do with post-COVID economics and instead is natural business evolution.
In Seattle, near the company’s corporate headquarters, the Seattle Times says the cuts involve ‘dozens’ of contract workers. In London, The Guardian says about 27 people received notices at Press Association, a leading UK press agency that supplies editorial services to Microsoft. Full-time staffers apparently are unaffected, and the Times says, ‘they perform functions similar to those being let go.’
- AI systems doing desk editing functions is not new. Other big media companies have been using AI systems in desk tasks for some time. The difference is that those uses have been characterized as ‘adding capacity’ or ‘enabling journalists to reallocate their time.’
- Outright replacement of journalistic jobs is a change from prevailing views. ‘AI will replace news roles but not news jobs’ has been a mantra at panels and in publications since AI systems started appearing in newsrooms.
- This signals a major AI company believes its technology is ready to replace some human functions in the news industry at scale. Nothing in early reports indicates Microsoft has a system ready for third-party deployment. The company may only select to keep its capabilities in-house to derive competitive advantage at a lower cost.
SEE RELATED STORIES
- Microsoft Sacks Editors, Gives Jobs to AI
TECH NEWS WORLD | June 4, 2020 | by John P. Mello
- Microsoft sacks journalists to replace them with robots
THE GUARDIAN | May 30, 2020 | by Jim Waterson
- Microsoft lays off journalists to replace them with AI
THE VERGE | May 30, 2020 | by Tom Warren
- Microsoft ‘to replace journalists with robots’
BBC NEWS | May 30, 2020
- Microsoft will axe up to 50 journalists and replace them with robots using AI to select news stories
DAILY MAIL | May 30, 2020 | by Darren Boyle
- Microsoft is cutting dozens of MSN news production workers and replacing them with artificial intelligence
SEATTLE TIMES | May 29, 2020 | by Geoff Baker