The days when publishers could afford to hire personal assistants for their editors and reporters are long gone. With newsroom budgets having never been tighter, some local news outlets are turning to virtual assistant tools to make up for staffing shortages.
Virtual assistants can be freelance secretaries who work remotely and complete tasks using certain web-based platforms. Or, as is more often the case, virtual assistants can be mobile applications that use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand natural language voice commands and complete basic tasks for users.
Although data on the precise number of local journalists using virtual assistant tools is sparse, the trend is clearly there. Nearly half of Americans (46%) use digital voice assistants, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, with some of the most common uses being typing, completing basic tasks hands-free, and connecting remotely to other apps and services.
Of course, local journalists tend to use virtual assistant tools differently than the general public. For example, reporters and editors will often use virtual assistant tools to transcribe recorded interviews, organize staff meetings, respond to emails, and manage shared calendars. Some of the most sophisticated virtual assistant apps can even learn users’ writing styles and then mimic those styles in posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Here are six virtual assistant tools that local journalists can try out.
Zirtual offers virtual assistances for entrepreneurs and small teams, making it a great fit for independent publishers. With plans that start at $398 per month, Zirtual provides its users with college-educated, U.S. based assistants available for a set number of hours. Zirtual’s assistants can handle all sorts of publishing-related tasks, including organizing details of contacts, sorting CRM data, writing and scheduling social media posts, assisting with funding campaigns, locating nearby networking events, and gathering qualitative data.
Rather than working with a dedicated virtual assistant, Magic gives its users access to a team of trained professionals. Journalists, editors, and publishers can text Magic with questions or requests for any number of tasks, and the company’s team of assistants will get to work completing those assignments. Magic’s virtual assistants handle more heavy lifting than most. The company’s college-educated assistants can complete tasks retailed to sales, marketing, research, recruiting, and even live support. Pricing for Magic starts at 59¢ per min for individuals, or $40 per user, per month for businesses, including local publishers.
Replika is a virtual assistant application that uses the latest artificial intelligence technology. Users can actually teach their virtual Replika assistant to “become more human” by interacting with the mobile app. Learning about the way you communicate allows Replika to eventually be able to complete basic tasks, like replying to emails, scheduling appointments, or chatting with a customer service rep, in a user’s own voice. Replika is free to use.
Fin has managed to turn personal assistance in an on-demand service. The platform mixes human and machine learning to give users the ability to offload tasks like coordinating meetings, managing calendars, answering calls, and returning emails. Requests can be submitted via email, mobile app, or text. Recurring tasks and important dates are tracking automatically, which is where the machine learning element in Fin comes into play. Pricing for part-time help starts at $270 per month.
Designed for individual professionals and small businesses, like local publishers, Please.Do is a virtual assistant service that’s set up to handle all sorts of complex tasks. Please.Do users submit requests via a mobile app and a real assistant—dubbed a “Please.Doer”—completes each task. Users have the option to chat directly with their “doers,” or they can request specialized support for more complex tasks. Please.Do’s assistants handle tasks like conducting market research, putting together expense reports, and adding new contacts to a company’s CRM system. Pricing is setup on a per-minute basis.
Best suited for journalists and small teams, 24me is a “smart” personal assistant that keeps professional lives organized. Using the mobile app, local journalists can manage their tasks, schedules, and notes. 24me takes distances and traffic into account when sending push notifications to let reporters know when they should leave the office to make it to meetings or interviews on time. It also includes a conference calling feature, which small teams will appreciate. 24me is free to download.