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A Robot Is Writing Real Estate Stories for the Miami Herald

Journalist Rene Rodriguez announced on October 10 that he had published his final byline at the Miami Herald, where he’s worked since 1989 in a variety of roles, most recently covering real estate.

It’s unclear who will replace the veteran reporter, but there appears to be at least one new writer on the Herald‘s real estate beat: Miami Herald Bot.

At 1:55 p.m. on October 15, Bot published its first article on the site: “North Miami Beach, Florida house sells for $2.4 million.” Just two minutes later, it impressively published two stories at once: “Miami, Florida condominium sells for $5.4 million” and “Sunny Isles Beach, Florida home sells for $2.6 million,” both at 1:57 p.m.

Before its first day on the job came to a close, Bot notched another byline, at 3 p.m., with “Coral Gables, Florida home sells for $5.1 million.”

All told, over the past two and a half weeks, Miami Herald Bot has published more than 50 real estate stories for the daily newspaper of record. If it seems Bot is pumping these articles out like a machine, well, that’s because Bot is a machine — or rather “artificial intelligence software that analyzes structured information from prominent real estate data providers and applies it to templates created by journalists in the newsroom,” according to the editor’s note that appears at the end of all of Bot’s stories.

“We are experimenting with this and other ways of providing more useful content to our readers and subscribers,” the note continues.

For now, Bot’s stories focus on real estate sales. They’re typically shorter than two paragraphs and follow a template that includes the property’s address, date of sale, sale price, price per square foot, and the number of bathrooms and bedrooms. Bot tends to favor the words “fetched” and “roomy.” It likes to include “Florida” in its headlines even if it’s a tad obvious.

Sometimes Bot’s articles do not make much sense at all.

On November 1, Bot published a story under the headline “Brickell-area, Florida house sells for $825,000” that had nothing to do with Brickell, but rather a sale on the 7700 block of Northwest 161st Terrace — 15 miles to the northwest in Opa-locka.

Another recent story asks a somewhat confounding question in its headline — “How much did it cost to buy a home in Miami-Dade County, FL in the past week?” — then supplies a logic-challenged story that cites specifics of a single sale of “a 1,671 square foot home on Northeast 194th Terrace in Miami-Dade…for $455,000.”

Neither Miami Herald executive editor Monica Richardson nor a spokesperson for the McClatchy Company, which owns the paper, responded to New Times‘ questions about Bot, including whether Bot might dabble in other news beats in the future.

The paper joins a growing list of major news organizations around the globe hat have enlisted robo-reporters. Over the past several years, journalists at Forbes, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, and the Guardian have developed bots to cover everything from breaking news to sports to politics.

A breaking-news bot created by former Los Angeles Times journalist Ken Schwencke helped the paper become the first to report on the 5.1 magnitude earthquake that rattled Los Angeles in 2014. As of 2019, nearly one-third of the content published by Bloomberg News has seen some form of automated technology.

Although some journalists have seen the rise of artificial intelligence in newsrooms as a threat to their jobs, reporters and media experts argue that the technology isn’t going to replace them. Some even say the bots have helped with productivity and allowed the sentient journos more time to focus on larger projects.

Still, the widespread use of artificial intelligence software hasn’t come without problems.

Research over the years has uncovered major racial and gender biases in artificial intelligence. The issue was perhaps best demonstrated in 2016, when a Microsoft-created Twitter chatbot named “Tay” turned into a Nazi within hours of being unveiled after the internet corrupted her with racist and xenophobic tweets. The company had developed the bot to “experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding.” (“The more you talk to her the smarter she gets,” a Microsoft researcher told BuzzFeed News.)

Although the future arc of Miami Herald Bot’s career is unclear, its stories appear to be popular among the paper’s readers. According to a tweet from longtime Herald reporter David Ovalle, a Miami Herald Bot story from November 1 about the sale of a Brickell-area home was the site’s top read story that day. (That property was actually located in Brickell.)

Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsh’s retirement announcement on Wednesday raised the question of whether Bot might plump for a promotion.

The Miami Herald Bot didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment. 

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