Need to Know: September 1, 2023


The news industry is continuing to figure out how to incorporate artificial intelligence into its work. The Marshall Project and The Markup are testing AI in their newsrooms, Norwegian outlet VG used AI to re-create events for a true crime documentary, and publications owned by the media and marketing company Foundry are rolling out an AI chatbot. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing — The Columbus Dispatch paused its AI sports writing program after complaints about its robotic style and lack of detail, and experts are warning that AI-generated books on mushroom foraging could be actively dangerous. Meanwhile, dozens of news organizations have blocked ChatGPT from crawling their websites and using their text to train large language models. (Digiday, INMA, The Verge, Axios Columbus, 404 Media, CNN) 


These are the stories that captured the most interest from Need to Know subscribers this week. 

How The Daily Tar Heel designed the front page everyone is talking about. About three dozen newsroom leadership staff reached out to peers for the texts they’d sent family and friends during an on-campus shooting. (Poynter)  

Americans aren’t sure what’s true in this health misinformation age. A new poll found that 70% of respondents said the news media was not doing enough to limit the spread of health misinformation. (Poynter)  

Journalism has seen a substantial rise in philanthropic spending over the past 5 years, a study says. The increase has been especially pronounced in poor and minority communities. (The Associated Press)  


American Press Institute launches expanded training portfolio for local news organizations

We’ve listened to thousands of journalists, both news leaders and frontline workers, who have told us where they would like to see more support. We offer in-person and virtual training for topics including technology and analytics, leadership and mental health, DEIB and trust, and revenue and sustainability.

Understand the product lifecycle, know that ‘sunset’ is a verb and other tips for maintaining your news products (Better News)

The product development sprint for Table Stakes alumni challenged six newsrooms to each develop a product that addresses problems for their communities. Over five months, the cohort learned about the fundamentals of product development and design. Tips on how to maintain and nurture budding news products include customizing your product lifecycle, telling your product’s story with quantitative and qualitative data, and evaluating a product’s value over time — sunsetting a project is sometimes necessary.

Better News podcast: The Coloradoan partners with university to foster public discourse, increase engagement

The Coloradoan serves 362,000 residents of Fort Collins and Larimer County, Colorado. The newspaper and its predecessors have served the area for 150 years. When staff reductions forced The Coloradoan’s editors to rethink and eventually cancel their traditional opinion page, they realized they needed a new model to engage readers and drive subscriptions.

Eric Larsen, The Coloradoan’s executive editor, recently wrote a report for Better News about how a partnership with Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation reenergized the newspaper’s opinion page and increased engagement by promoting a public dialogue among its audience members. Listen to the latest Better News podcast on the partnership.


Each Monday, Need to Know shares a special edition series focusing on top issues impacting today’s newsrooms. 

The legal implications of generative AI

It’s time to zoom out from using AI and ask a basic question: How can “training” large language models (LLMs) — the structure that ChatGPT, Dall-E and other generative AI models are built on — with anything and everything on the internet, including all of our content, possibly be legal? Especially when AI is built for other people’s commercial products? I’ve heard from countless local news leaders this year who are concerned and convinced they’re seeing the end of their news business, while having no protections to cover it.

+ Check out the News/Media Alliance’s work on artificial intelligence. 

+ N/MA filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a few years ago about data retention and mining. News organizations are uniquely situated because our content is used to feed the training that becomes AI tools that feed into creating more journalism. 

+ Read about the Getty cases in the U.K. and U.S. There’s a strong foundational precedent in the courts around images because there’s a lot of clarity around that law. 


+ Journalism fails miserably at explaining what is really happening to America (The Philadelphia Inquirer) 

+ Jelani Cobb on J-school sticker shock, education wars, and the Trump coverage conundrum (Vanity Fair) 

+ How a small-town feud in Kansas sent a shock through American journalism (The Washington Post) 

+ The new little magazines: Keeping literature and long-form journalism alive (Harvard Magazine)