International Conference on Algorithms, Automation and News 2018 Munich

  • Conference Call
  • Algo­rithms and automa­tion increas­ingly are con­nected to many aspects of news pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion. We invite orig­i­nal, unpub­lished papers to address such issues at an Inter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Algo­rithms, Automa­tion and News to be held at the Cen­ter for Advanced Stud­ies at LMU Munich on May 2223, 2018 — shortly before the ICA annual con­ven­tion in Prague, not far from Munich.

    Thanks to the gen­er­ous sup­port of our spon­sors, there will be no con­fer­ence fee, and free hotel accom­mo­da­tion will be pro­vided for pre­sen­ters, in addi­tion to oppor­tu­ni­ties for need-​based travel stipends. Select papers from the con­fer­ence will be pub­lished in a spe­cial issue of Dig­i­tal Jour­nal­ism as well as a pro­posed edited volume.

    Keynote Speaker

    • Pro­fes­sor Philip M. Napoli – the James R. She­p­ley Pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Pol­icy in the San­ford School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, Duke Uni­ver­sity, USA.

    Con­firmed Speakers

    • Natali Hel­berger – Pro­fes­sor of Infor­ma­tion Law, with a spe­cial focus on the use of infor­ma­tion, at the Insti­tute for Infor­ma­tion Law (IViR), Uni­ver­sity of Amsterdam.
    • C. W. Ander­son – Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of Staten Island (CUNY) and, as of Sep­tem­ber 2017, a Pro­fes­sor of Media and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Leeds.
    • Nicholas Diakopou­los – Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park Philip Mer­rill Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism, with cour­tesy appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Infor­ma­tion Stud­ies and Depart­ment of Com­puter Science.

    Con­fer­ence Theme and Topics

    We live in a world increas­ingly influ­enced by algo­rithms and automa­tion. The ubiq­uity of com­put­ing in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture has resulted in human decision-​making being aug­mented, and even par­tially replaced, by com­pu­ta­tional processes. Such aug­men­ta­tion and sub­sti­tu­tion is already com­mon, and even pre­dom­i­nates, in some indus­tries. This trend is now spread­ing rapidly to the fourth estate — our news media.

    Algo­rithms and automa­tion are increas­ingly impli­cated in many aspects of news pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion. For exam­ple, algo­rithms are being used to fil­ter the enor­mous quan­ti­ties of con­tent pub­lished on social media plat­forms, pick­ing out what is poten­tially news­wor­thy and alert­ing jour­nal­ists to its exis­tence (Thur­man et al., 2016).

    Mean­while, auto­mated jour­nal­ism — the trans­form­ing of struc­tured data on such things as sports results and finan­cial earn­ings reports into nar­ra­tive news texts with lit­tle to no human inter­ven­tion aside from the orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming (Carl­son, 2015) — grows apace. What began some years ago as small-​scale exper­i­ments in machine-​written news has, amid the devel­op­ment of big data broadly, become a global phe­nom­e­non, involv­ing tech­nol­ogy providers from the U.S. to Ger­many to China devel­op­ing algo­rithms to deliver auto­mated news in mul­ti­ple lan­guages (Dörr, 2016).

    And, algo­rithms are being used in new ways to dis­trib­ute and pack­age news con­tent, both enabling con­sumers to request more of what they like and less of what they don’t and also mak­ing deci­sions on con­sumers’ behalf based on their behav­ioral traits, social net­works, and per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics (Groot Kormelink and Costera Mei­jer, 2014).

    Alto­gether, these devel­op­ments raise ques­tions about the social role of jour­nal­ism as a long­stand­ing facil­i­ta­tor of pub­lic knowl­edge. What are the implications:

    • for human labor and jour­nal­is­tic authority?
    • for con­cerns around news qual­ity, trans­parency, and accountability?
    • for notions of who (or what) does journalism?
    • for how news moves among var­i­ous publics (or not)?

    Addi­tion­ally, what hap­pens when edi­to­r­ial func­tions once per­formed by jour­nal­ists are increas­ingly assumed by new sets of actors sit­u­ated at the inter­sec­tion of human and machine?

    Ulti­mately, what do algo­rithms and automa­tion mean for jour­nal­ism — its peo­ple, pur­poses, and processes; its norms, ethics, and val­ues; its rela­tion­ship with audi­ences and pub­lic life; and its oblig­a­tions toward data man­age­ment and user privacy?

    This three-​part call — con­fer­ence, spe­cial issue, and book project — takes up these and other ques­tions by bring­ing together the lat­est schol­arly research on algo­rithms, automa­tion, and news. In par­tic­u­lar, it seeks to orga­nize research on capa­bil­i­ties, cases, and con­se­quences asso­ci­ated with these technologies:

    • explo­rations of the pos­si­bil­i­ties and perils,
    • of the­ory and practice,
    • and of com­par­a­tive per­spec­tives accord­ing to var­i­ous sites and lev­els of analysis.

    Ulti­mately, we aim for research that pro­vides a future ori­en­ta­tion while grounded in appro­pri­ate his­tor­i­cal con­text, con­tem­po­rary empir­i­cal research, and rig­or­ous con­cep­tual development.

    By some accounts, the promise of algo­rithms and automa­tion is that news may be faster and more per­son­al­ized, that web­sites and apps may be more engag­ing, and even that qual­ity jour­nal­ism may be bet­ter funded, to the ben­e­fit of all. How­ever, there are also con­cerns, includ­ing anx­i­eties around:

    • the hid­den biases built into bots decid­ing what’s newsworthy,
    • the ‘pop­u­lar­ism’ that track­ing trends inevitably promotes,
    • how mis­placed trust in algo­rith­mic agency might blunt jour­nal­ists’ crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties, and
    • the pri­vacy of data col­lected on indi­vid­u­als for the pur­poses of news­gath­er­ing and distribution.

    More­over, as more news is tem­plated or data-​driven, there is unease about issues such as:

    • who and what gets reported,
    • the ethics of author­ship and accountability,
    • the legal issues of libel by algorithm,
    • the avail­abil­ity of oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment, train­ing, and edu­ca­tion, and
    • the con­ti­nu­ity of fact-​checking and analy­sis, among others.

    And, as more news is explic­itly or implic­itly per­son­al­ized, there is dis­quiet about:

    • whether we will retreat into our own pri­vate infor­ma­tion worlds, ‘pro­tected’ from new, chal­leng­ing and stim­u­lat­ing viewpoints,
    • the algo­rith­mi­cally ori­ented spread of ‘fake news’ within such fil­ter bubbles,
    • the bound­aries between edi­to­r­ial and adver­tis­ing con­tent, and
    • the trans­parency and account­abil­ity of the deci­sions made about what we get to read and watch.

    Pub­li­ca­tion Opportunities

    Through the con­fer­ence, and the spe­cial issue of Dig­i­tal Jour­nal­ism and book to fol­low, we seek to facil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tion around these and related issues across a vari­ety of aca­d­e­mic fields, including:

    • com­puter science
    • infor­ma­tion science
    • com­pu­ta­tional linguistics
    • media infor­mat­ics
    • law and pub­lic policy
    • sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy studies
    • phi­los­o­phy
    • soci­ol­ogy
    • polit­i­cal science
    • design
    • com­mu­ni­ca­tion, media and jour­nal­ism studies.

    We wel­come orig­i­nal, unpub­lished arti­cles draw­ing on a vari­ety of the­o­ret­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal approaches, with a pref­er­ence for empir­i­cally dri­ven and/​or con­cep­tu­ally rich accounts. These papers might touch on a range of themes, includ­ing but not lim­ited to the issues out­lined above.

    Con­fer­ence Organisers

    • Neil Thur­man – Pro­fes­sor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with an empha­sis on Com­pu­ta­tional Jour­nal­ism in the Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies and Media Research, LMU Munich.
    • Seth C. Lewis, Ph.D. – Shirley Papé Chair in Emerg­ing Media in the School of Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Ore­gon, and an affil­i­ated fel­low of the Infor­ma­tion Soci­ety Project at Yale Law School.
    • Jes­sica Kunert – Post­doc­toral Research Fel­low in the Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies and Media Research at LMU Munich.


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