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How artificial intelligence is evolving in journalism

Sam Han, Jeremy Gilbert and Sisi Wei present at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last week.

LONDON – Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the news industry, according to industry experts who participated in a recent panel discussion at this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism. 

“This is going to change everything,”  said Marc Lavallee, director of the Knight Foundation, who chaired the panel. 

Generative AI – which is a type of artificial intelligence that can produce text, images and audio and other data – is set to revolutionize various industries and the way tasks are carried out, with the most well known example being the Metaverse. 

Aimee Rinehart, program manager at the Associated Press, shared her initial optimism for AI’s implementation into local newsrooms.

“We are going to see some amazingly creative projects in the next year or two,” Rinehart said, before adding, “Then it’s going to get awful.” 

In a survey answered by 200 local news leaders in the United States, Rinehart said it was found that 68% had experimented with AI and that 67% saw generative AI as an opportunity for journalists.

Sisi Wei, editor-in-chief at The Markup, expressed how AI should be utilized in newsrooms for young journalists and that errors could potentially be beneficial in the editing process 

“One of the most important skills in journalism in a newsroom today, I think, is critical thinking,” said Wei.

Jeremy Gilbert, Knight chair at Northwestern University, agreed with Wei, highlighting the lack of critical thinking in the U.S. education system today. 

“If a large language model with almost no useful information can do the same job as our undergraduates then we’re probably not training our undergraduates particularly well,” said Gilbert, a remark met with a round of applause by the audience. 

Regulations are tackling concerns about bias in algorithms and other ethical issues, according to Wei.

Biased imagery in the news would be an exception to AI’s use, Wei said, because it is vital for AI to “uphold the values” of the industry.

“Transparency is going to be key,” said Wei.

The panel discussed the possibility of building a conversational interface to help people keep up with elections, races and candidates.

Sam Han, director at The Washington Post, demonstrated an automated storytelling agent called ‘Heliograf’ which creates personalised stories for readers through real time data sources while “keeping journalistic integrity and standards in mind.” 

Lavallee and Han agreed that this is a “best of both worlds approach.”

The audience of journalists, however, questioned AI, suggesting that it could exacerbate inequality. 

According to Han, the widespread access to AI and its flexibility is likely to make things better, not worse.

“Fight fire with fire,” said Rinehart in response to concerns over mis/disinformation. She emphasised the countless benefits of generative AI. 

The ability of AI to generate summaries, write headlines and provide outlines has been a “big boom” for small newsrooms that have been waiting for college students to update their websites, stated Rinehart. 

Rinehart shared her enthusiasm for the work of Hank Sims, Editor at Lost Coast Communications, whose generative AI tool, DALL-E is being used to create images. 

As for fears of AI taking jobs away from artists, Rinehart said, “We’ve never hired local artists.”

Gilbert said, “We’ll also see artists just like we see writers now, using AI to improve their own output.”

Making AI art representative of the subjects it covers is one of the industry’s biggest difficulties, according to Wei. 

‘‘I’m not actually that scared on the jobs front,” Wei said, adding that tech takes care of the jobs people don’t want to do. ‘’New jobs are going to be created and new opportunities are going to show up much faster.’’ 

Gilbert stated the focus of AI should be to “serve the needs of our audience that we cannot serve” rather than fears of workers being replaced. 

Comparing human work to GPT’s efficiency is pointless, Gilbert said, adding that as human behavior changes, technology will become more sophisticated.

“We need to adapt to acknowledge that change and I think we’ll prepare ourselves for that big change,”’ said Han.

Lavallee expressed how this is going to be a process of unlearning for those already in the industry.

Gilbert agreed, comparing the unrealism of banning AI like ChatGPT to banning students from using smartphones. 

It is clear that AI will continue to play a crucial role in the future of news. 

As Gilbert said, “We don’t know how we’re going to use these tools, but we absolutely need to be experimenting.”

Anjola Fashawe is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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1 Comment

  • That’s a fantastic piece of news!! Anjola, you’re like a magic fairy who took a topic that seems boring and turned it into something super interesting!!