The Reynolds Speaker Series: Why Robots and Journalists Should Work Together

Technology and Journalism are obviously intertwined, but Meedan Director of Product An Xiao Mina says the real success is when the two work purposefully together.

An Xiao Mina, Director of Product at Meedan, spoke to students and faculty on Tuesday as part of the Center for Media Studies talk series. Afterward she spoke at the Reno Collective as part of a mixer event hosted by ONA Nevada.

She jokes, her title at Meedan is hard to describe to family because so few people know what it is. Asked the audience what was the definitions of products and platforms were. Part of the reason they are so hard to define, Mina said, is because both are at the intersection of several things: user experience, technology, journalism, and business.

“We’re often operating at the middle of all of this. I’m neither a UX [user experience] person, nor a technologist, nor a business person, but I’m somewhere in between, and I have to understand how all these things work,” said Mina.

An Xiao Mina, Director of Product at Meedan, speaks at the Reynolds School of Journalism on the importance of technology and journalism. March 13, 2017.

At both talks, she stressed just how intertwined technology and journalism were. One product she helped create utilizes the Slack chat app to help journalists verify information and stories in real time. The platform Check was used to verify reported issues around voting places during the election. Bot helpers pulled the data and journalists verified it.

An Xiao Mina, Director of Product at Meedan, speaks at the Reynolds School of Journalism on the importance of technology and journalism. March 13, 2017.

An Xiao Mina, Director of Product at Meedan, speaks at the Reynolds School of Journalism on the importance of technology and journalism. March 13, 2017.

For another project, Bridge, she got the help of two Reynolds students, Jose Olivarez and Natalie Van Hoozer, to help translate Spanish tweets during the American election. The platform delivered social media posts in other languages that then had to be translated for news. Getting Olivares and Van Hoozer’s help, she said, was critical not just for translation, but for providing annotations and context that an artificial intelligence simply couldn’t pick up.

“Here is really where we wanted to understand what it would be like to translate social media responses to the presidential debates.” Mina said. “We wanted to see what that looks like and what journalistic value is there.”

For example, in one of the tweets Olivares translated, he also provided an annotation that explained the Mexican election the original user was referring to. A chat bot or automated translator could not have picked up that information, Mina said. Examples like these show how journalists can use technology to streamline workflows and increase accuracy.

“How many people speaking English only are suddenly now able to understand content from Spanish or Arabic? So what is the journalistic value and the impact of this tool, and how is that facilitated?”

An Xiao Mina speaks at the Reno Collective on Monday, March 13, 2017.

An Xiao Mina speaks at the Reno Collective on Monday, March 13, 2017.

Mina encouraged journalists to think of pipelines when thinking about journalism technology. A bot or a program can pull information, such as tweets with certain keywords or posts made in a specific geographic area, but it takes a human eye to take a look at the data and pull a story from it. Information and data comes in the pipeline, Mina says, and then it’s distributed and disseminated by journalists and writers who can figure out what the story really is, or verify the information.

“In our platforms that we build for journalists, we should start thinking about responsibility into data, responsibility to the public interest, and responsibility to this larger ecosystem of journalism.”

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