September 6, 2013


A human wrote a headline on tech-news aggregator Techmeme, Techmeme honcho Gabe Rivera writes. That’s significant because although the service has “blended in human curation with our automation” since 2008, it always quoted the headlines of the stories it linked to, whether they were chosen by algorithm or human.

So why start letting Techmeme’s six carbon-based editors write headlines? “In some news organizations, particularly the older ones, too often the editor tasked with writing the headline doesn’t appreciate the most newsworthy part of the story,” Rivera says. In other cases, “companies announcing bad news will omit specifics at the headline level.”

More problems:

– Bloggers with a devoted readership who can count on readers consuming the bulk of their output often enjoy writing more cerebral, enigmatic titles with meanings that fully reveal themselves only after reading the story.
– Some bloggers consider composing a headline a mere chore, dashing out a few words thoughtlessly, and moving on.

The practice will spread to Techmeme’s sibling site, Mediagazer, which has three human beings working as editors. Rivera expects, and does not dispute, that the change will introduce editors’ biases into headlines (as I have done with the headline above): “While most of the headlines we write will elevate details present in the story, we may on occasion even use a headline we write to challenge, correct, refute, or even undermine what we’re linking to, if we feel that gets our readers closer to the truth as we see it.”

The site has no plans to begin reporting stories, Rivera says. Too bad: He sounds like he’d be a fun editor.

More on robots (all headlines quote original posts): Washington Post considered using robot sportswriters | CIA invests in robot journalism | Prepare yourself for robot editors

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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