News website replaces journalists with computers

Five freelance journalists on a specialist news service have lost out on work – after being replaced by computers.

Niche news service Independent Farm Business News has shut up shop after its sole client, Farming Online, switched to an automated news service.

IFBN, run by five freelance agricultural journalists, originally had a wide-ranging remit across Farming Online when it started more than 10 years ago, including providing features and news.

Later, after the website experienced financial difficulties, this was renegotiated down to a set number of news stories each day.

IFBN managing editor Alan Stennett said he could understand Farming Online’s reason for ending the contract. ‘They could not afford what I could describe as a proper news service and had to go and find an alternative.”

But he added: ‘I don’t think what they have is a replacement; it is something different. But it may well be their readers will enjoy reading something different. I can’t say. But I regret the fact they haven’t that professional input they had before.

‘What we did is put the stories into the context that would make sense for UK farmers. We would interpret as to what our readers wanted to know. You were filtering through an editorial process run by people who actually understood farming and farmers.”

Farming Online has never been a news source itself but a platform for a number of sources, including IFBN. It also reproduces press releases and corporate news briefings.

Simon Bradley, a director of Farming Online, said the automated news feed provides a wider range of stories at a much lower cost from different UK and worldwide sources.

‘The automated system also gives us better cover because it works 24 hours a day,’he said.

Bradley said no subscribers had complained about the change and that while IFBN gave stories ‘a certain focus and helped expand it’he wondered if that ‘added value’was noticeable.

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