Welcome to API’s Local News and AI series. I’m Elite Truong, API’s Vice President of Product Strategy. Over the next four weeks in August, we’ll be sharing resources and advice on how AI can serve your news organization. We’re here to help cut through the noise and share what you need to know about AI as a local journalist.
An intro guide to understanding AI
Every day there seems to be news about AI that affects us and our industry, like OpenAI partnering with the AP for local news and hiring an ex-Microsoft lawyer to represent publisher licensing negotiations.
National newsrooms are recruiting AI and automation engineers and local newsrooms are automating calendar events. It seems that everyone in the media business is considering AI and even Google is starting to pitch AI-enabled tools to help journalists automate headlines and descriptions for SEO (meta, isn’t it?).
Even being outside of a newsroom for a year and speaking at multiple journalism conferences this year as an emerging tech/news expert, my head is spinning, keeping up with all the developments. Should local news leaders be worried? How do we decide in real time what will help our newsrooms or not? So, in this series, I’ll be answering some of the most pressing questions for local newsrooms considering AI.
Today, we’ll start with what’s worth paying attention to — an intro guide to help you decide whether or not AI is right for your newsroom.
- Defining AI:
- There are many kinds of AI, but the branch that is the most accessible to us is generative AI. The most famous example of this is ChatGPT, which works as a prompt system and gives us a response based on an AI model that has been trained on billions of web pages, including news sites. You can think of it as a student who has memorized a billion pages and will return an answer based on their general research without personalizing it. Dall-E does similar work with images. Both are easy to register and get started to see how they work.
- What could I use AI for?
- Right now, the most trouble-free use case for AI in your newsroom is to automate busy work so reporters’ time can be put to better use and they can focus on bigger stories. Can we use ChatGPT to start a service piece outline on how to register as a voter ahead of the elections? Can we automate taking meeting notes, or building focus time blocks across teams?
- Look through use cases in Generative AI Newsroom and the Center for Cooperative Media’s Beginner ChatGPT Prompt Handbook to learn how newsrooms are using generative AI to summarize legal documents, generate social posts, copyedit work, create templates for internal documentation and create news quizzes, on top of the AI-enabled transcript tools you might already have been using, e.g. Otter.ai or Trint. I also recommend listening to the Newsroom Robots podcast to hear a global perspective on how newsrooms and researchers are using generative AI around the world.
- How will I know whether or not it’s worth using AI?
- If you decide to use AI tools or experiment with generative AI in your newsroom’s workflow, it’s worth creating an AI success metric to make sure you’re getting something out of it. It may be a win with your team giving tasks to AI tools in newsgathering, but the success metric should measure what your reporter works on with saved time that your audience engages with–otherwise, it may not be worth the time saved and energy or resources invested in that AI tool.
- Is it ethical to use AI?
- This is the first decision you’ll have to make for your news organization. My answer to this question as a seasoned news product leader is “no, but our ethical qualms in using this technology are surpassed by how it can help us contribute so much more to the end goal — serving our audience.” In the meantime, we have to contend with this uneasiness and consider how can we contribute to getting licensing in place so local newsrooms receive compensation from AI use.
- Do I have to use AI in my newsroom?
- It’s easy to look at the AP and other, often more resourced newsrooms establishing first-time use cases and feel like you’re lagging behind. However, this is not a good mindset for intentional innovation that helps your newsroom reach, engage and serve your audience in better ways. Keep exploring AI resources to see if a use case piques your interest. And once you decide, make sure to communicate it clearly to your staff and audience.
- How should I keep up with the news about AI?
- This is comparable to how you expect your audience to follow election coverage. A small minority needs to know everything that happens, likely because they work in politics. The majority needs to know top headlines, how it affects them and the opportunities they should pursue. Understand what’s helpful to you, and if horse-race AI reporting isn’t serving you, choose only a few outlets and reporters to follow. For a stepped-back look at how companies are working with AI across industries and privacy concerns, I follow Karen Hao and Madhumita Murgia. My favorite AI researcher and journalist who studies algorithmic accessibility and bias is Meredith Broussard. For local news use cases, I recommend the resources in the above section.
- What else is interesting about AI in journalism?
- AI is more than ChatGPT, but no matter the format, these programs generally work best if you give them a simple job recognizing patterns in data, documents and images that are worth reporting on, or use them to help get you started on labor-intensive work, such as suggesting social copy based on your article. Aside from those, there are compelling use cases in media that use machine learning for paywall and content discovery and computer vision for visual investigations and reconstructing events. The market is flooded with AI tools to help newsrooms create more video content from their written content. What I’m most optimistic about AI is seeing how much it can help our readers with smarter recommendations and evergreen content in your newsroom’s archives, which should help more readers engage with and support your journalism.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely grappling with the question: Should I be doing more with AI? The takeaway this week is to make a decision before your leadership or board makes one for you. Consider the questions of whether your newsroom should be using AI and how you can keep up with AI news. In the weeks ahead, we’ll continue down the road of how to make your decision transparent to your staff and audience to keep your credibility and trustworthiness.