By:
June 14, 2024

Though it has only been 18 months since the launch of ChatGPT shot artificial intelligence tools into the public consciousness, the technology is already popping up in people’s daily lives. Apple, Meta, Google and other tech companies are all rushing to incorporate AI into their products.

The proliferation of AI is in turn driving a shift in how news and information are being consumed, and journalists need to be ready for it, said Nikita Roy, an International Center for Journalists Knight fellow. In a discussion at Poynter’s Summit on AI, 51ԹϹand Journalism this week, Roy shared examples of how AI tools are serving up information in personalized, interactive environments instead of a static, one-size-fits-all format.

“It’s a new evolution of the information ecosystem,” Roy told Poynter. “We saw that when things went from print to online, and then you had social media come. Now with (generative) AI, it’s just the next step of the information ecosystem.”

Some newsrooms have attempted to harness AI for their journalism and business to varying degrees of success. Roy said the AI newsroom projects she sees generally fall into one of four categories:

  • Content creation, which includes tools that generate headlines or social media posts
  • Workflow optimization, which includes transcription and proofreading tools
  • Analytics and monitoring, which includes paywall optimization and tools that can predict customer churn
  • Audience-facing tools, which includes interactive chatbots and article summarizers

The use of generative AI in particular has drawn a lot of attention — much of it negative. Sports Illustrated, Gizmodo, Gannett and McClatchy are just some of the news organizations that have faced criticism over the past year for publishing AI-generated content riddled with errors and clunky prose.

But AI has many newsroom uses beyond generating articles. Joe Amditis, the assistant director for products and events at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, said journalists would benefit more by first understanding how AI can process information and automate tasks instead of jumping straight to generative tools.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of using these tools in, honestly, the way that they were originally intended,” Amditis said. “Originally, their big value was the ability to recognize and classify or group similar texts and concepts.

Amditis said he finds much more value in using the tools in a behind-the-scenes, assistive capacity than a public-facing one like writing news articles: “It feels like people are looking for reasons to be lazy about the most important parts of our job, which is interviewing and engaging with communities and relaying their stories and experiences to a wider audience.”

Journalists owe it to both themselves and their audiences to familiarize themselves with AI tools, Roy said. Not only can AI help journalists with their own work, but understanding AI is key to keeping tech companies accountable.

“There’s so much policy decisions, so much legislation that has not been fixed,” Roy said. “This is a very malleable space that we are in with AI, and this is where we need journalists to be the people who deeply understand the technology because it’s only then that you can apply it.”

Amditis advised newsrooms that are just beginning to work with AI tools to start with “silly, nonsensical, low-stakes” experiments, which will allow them to understand what they’re capable of. Questions newsrooms should ask themselves when planning AI projects include: Is this useful? Is this secure? Is it possible to do this on a locally hosted model instead of a third-party tool? Will this fit into existing workflows or existing platforms?

Some media organizations have been vocal about their desire to leverage AI to serve audiences. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, for example, in several earnings calls that the company sees AI products as a key part of its future.

The conversation and fanfare around AI concerns Amditis. He sees many people in the media industry talk about AI as if it will save them, ignoring issues like the extreme resource requirements it takes to operate AI tools at scale or the lack of a clear path to profitability for many AI projects. The technology behind AI is “incredible,” Amditis said, but he worries that the hype is going to overtake the actual utility of the tools, setting people up for a rude awakening.

“There’s this sense that you’re going to miss the train or miss the boat by not redoing your entire newsroom around this, and it just screams pivot-to-video,” Amditis said. “The trick, the gimmick to making good journalism that people will not only trust but pay for is to do it well.”

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

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