This article aims to spark discussion on two topics concerning the future of professional reporting: the official report of the future and the workplace of the future. In our introduction, we make three provocative statements on the future of reporting. After each statement we will give our own preliminary comments. We hope to hear your comments and predictions in future issues of Tiro.
“Robots will take over our jobs by 2030.”
The probability of losing your job to a machine if you are a parliamentary reporter—or a court reporter, as the closest match given—is 50%, according to willrobotstakemyjob.com. In general, the assumption is that all predictable or repeatable actions are likely to be automated. Reporting, however, is an intellectual activity and as such not an easy task to automate. It is more likely that the work of a parliamentary reporter will be supported by automation than replaced by it. An example may be the introduction of automated speaker recognition or identification.
“The official report in 2030 will be a video.”
In the Netherlands video reports get 10 times more views, on average, than the official report. General experience suggests that audiovisual content is easier to consume than a text. Video has the added benefit of giving an impression of being there: experiencing the actual event, live and uncut.
The increasing popularity of video and video reports poses two problems:
- There is no best practice yet on the authorization of video content. How are we to protect videos from image manipulation or deepfakes? The official report is consulted almost exclusively on the website whereas a video report can be shared, embedded and downloaded—and, after manipulation, put back into circulation.
- Research in the Netherlands on the introduction of video reports from local councils (as an alternative to written reports) shows a negative sentiment among council members and journalists. They feel that the task of democratic control is harder due to the absence of written reports. Compare the effort needed to search a text document with that of searching a video for statements, or certain parts of them.
“VAR will be used in parliament before 2030.”
During a debate on the rules of order of the House of Representatives in 2018, an MP from the Denk group proposed introducing a video assistant referee (VAR) for the Dutch Parliament, with the theme of transparency in mind. The implementation of VAR was proposed as a weapon against a potentially non-objective chairman who misuses the rules, bringing inequalities in the treatment of established parties and rebellious newcomers.
There is a parallel between politics and sport: both are subject to rules. However, the results of working with a VAR in football and Formula 1 suggest that it will not be instrumental in ending discussions but will itself become the subject of discussion.
What will the official report of the future look like?
As a rule of thumb, parliamentary reports on the official websites of Parliaments worldwide pay tribute to traditional book publishing, as if they are printed on paper instead of presented on a screen. They do not seem to fully integrate the possibilities of digital publishing. Techniques that are easily accessible (e.g. hyperlinking and deep linking) or new, such as deep learning, allow parliamentary reports to be enriched with parliamentary and non-parliamentary data. One can think of newspaper articles, resources on new and historical legislation, or background information on MPs and their actions as examples.
With the help of this digital enrichment, the report can function as a hub, making parliamentary information more accessible and transparent. Furthermore, this allows for customization according to the wishes and demands of different user groups, including MPs and their staff, civil servants, journalists and the general public, to name but a few.
One important issue to consider is the lack of understanding about the needs of the target audiences for parliamentary reports. Which type of enrichment would they benefit from? When does enrichment become gimmicky and of no use to them? Such questions call for market research and collaboration between different departments within Parliaments, such as those responsible for reporting, communications and IT.
Another important issue to take into account is the reliability of information. Should the report show only data curated by an editor, or can AI techniques automate this process? This would require conscious decision-making and scrutiny in which the parliamentary reporter, trained in assessing the credibility of sources, can play an important role.
What will the workplace of the future look like?
If the report of the future changes, the workplace of the future is bound to change as well. This will be influenced by not only the presentation of the official report but increasing digitalization within the political process, as well as the development of new technologies outside that process.
Within the political process we can already see citizen participation: for example, in the drafting of a new Icelandic constitution using social media (see Blueberry Soup, Eileen Jarrett’s 2013 documentary). In the Netherlands, we have seen the Prime Minister making calls with citizens via Facebook. We propose that, in 2030, international institutions such as the European Parliament should hold their conferences online, partly in the light of environmental challenges. With plenary sessions held digitally, the reporter of the future will no longer be needed in the plenary room. It will be possible to work independently from time and place.
Outside the political process, the most important influence will be automatic speech recognition. ASR accuracy is increasing by the day, which will lead to major change for the parliamentary reporter. The reporter of 2030 will work with a tablet or maybe even in a virtual reality setting. They will be needed to edit the text instead of producing it: less typing, more swiping.
To conclude, it is expected that in 2030 the parliamentary reporter will have seen major changes: first, in the final product that he or she produces; secondly, in the workplace that it is produced in. Will robots take over our jobs by 2030? No. Will the official report in 2030 be a video? Maybe. Will VAR be used in parliaments before 2030? No. However, due to various developments including ASR, social media, video reporting, hyperlinking and new forms of interfacing, both the reporter and the report face major changes.
Henk-Jan Eras is a quality officer and Germ Sikma and Deru Schelhaas are parliamentary reporters in the Parliamentary Reporting Office of the House of Representatives of the States General, the Netherlands.