We recently looked at the role of artificial intelligence in journalism with real-world examples from the Financial Times and other news organizations. From spotting trends to reducing bias to proofreading, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to augment the reporting power of human authors.
But should journalists be worried about potential threats from AI? The answer to that question depends on who you talk to — but one thing seems clear: while AI tools may not steal the journalist's job, they may substantially transform it.
Robot journalism and the importance of staff buy-in
September’s Future of Media Tech conference in London was bullish on the future of AI journalism. When asked about the possibility that AI would lead to layoffs, Claudia Quinonez, Managing Editor for News Automation at Bloomberg News, said, “The interesting thing is that it has not materialized. So we’ve been doing this for eight years, and it’s just not what happens. You do not automate people out of their jobs. You actually automate tests that they hate doing in a very precise way.”
Deepna Devkar, Vice President of Data Science and Engineering at CNN echoed Quinonez’s sentiments: “We’re here to enable journalists to do what they do best … We’re not at all here to automate journalism. I think creativity will never be replaced by machines, and it can’t be. That’s what makes us us. And so, we have a very strong partnership with our editorial team.”
This hasn’t always been the case, however. “In 2020, Microsoft fired dozens of journalists, replacing them with algorithms that could do the same tasks faster, for less money, and with better accuracy, according to The Science Survey.
Journalists, understandably, have taken more convincing that robots are not coming for their jobs. Bala Sundaramoorthy, the General Manager at Cox Enterprises’ Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, said that before instituting an AI solution, “We got a set of super-users trained first. And when we reached a point where we had enough ambassadors in the journalism side of the house, then we rolled it out to everybody.”
Buy-in among staff, especially journalists, is integral to success. Ultimately, a tool can only be helpful if users are willing to use it. “I believe a huge part of our success came from the newsroom buying into this concept that we’re not implementing technology that can come and take their jobs away, or that replaces what they’re doing. We made it very clear this is here to shine a spotlight on what you do,” said Sundaramoorthy.
A critical turning point for AI journalism
Despite the concerns of nervous reporters, automated journalism tools are, very likely, here to stay. Experts say that embracing the technology now means the ability to steer the conversation and development. Rather than opting out of the conversation, journalists need to engage and help steer the trajectory actively. As Charlie Beckett wrote for LSE, “AI literacy is now essential for anyone trying to report, analyse or investigate topics like politics, business, health or the environment. We all need to understand how data, algorithms and programming are shaping our lives.”
Journalism is at a critical turning point, and the reporters in the trenches must engage to avoid losing the opportunity to shape the future of their work. Beckett continues, “While we are having a bogus debate about ‘robots taking our jobs’ there is a real danger that someone else will do the work for us. Look what has happened to weather reporting. People can now get their weather information without any news organization's involvement.”
To avoid this fate, journalists and their employers must meet the demands of the moment and find new ways to use AI to enhance and support the creative work being done by human beings. While the debate rages, the AI tools march on — and continue to be implemented in newsrooms around the globe.
For instance, “News wire AP went from producing 300 articles on company earnings reports every quarter to 3,700 through using AI,” according to Goethe.de. That number has continued to climb as “AP’s newsroom AI technology automatically generates roughly 40,000 stories a year…”
Lindsay Grace, the Knight Chair for Interactive Media and an Associate Professor at the University of Miami School of Communication, said, “I think we should look at the AI industry like we look at the internet. It is a way of extending a journalist’s reach and efficacy in the work they are carrying out.”
After developing a paper called “Exploring Reporter-Desired Features for an AI-Generated Legislative News Tip Sheet,” Grace and a team of researchers developed an AI-powered tip sheet to help reporters source news more efficiently at the local level. “We recognize that it is extremely expensive to keep a journalist listening in on every event at the state level,” he said. “Instead, we have these AI systems as kind of sensors to do this work for them.” The team implemented the system in California, Florida, Texas, and New York where Sunshine Laws allow for easy access to legislative information.
It’s clear that with journalists’ input, AI can help enhance and support good journalism — especially when human resources are limited. Robot-generated text is limited to straightforward, data-driven articles and helping reporters find the kernel of a story - but it has the advantage of freeing journalists up to carry out the the more critical tasks of conducting interviews and doing in-depth analysis which are above AI’s pay grade - at least for now!
Integrating AI tools and services into the newsroom
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