Key strategies include establishing universal ethical standards, fostering inclusivity, prioritizing transparency, and encouraging collaboration to unlock AI’s potential while preserving journalistic values
Paul Cheung is a RJI Columnist exploring how newsrooms and journalists with limited resources can use AI tools to improve efficiency and increase capacity in their daily development and audience operations.
In the ever-evolving landscape of journalism, staying ahead of the curve is paramount. The rapid adoption of technology has forced the practice of journalism to continuously adapt and innovate. In this year’s Online News Association (ONA) conference, one topic stands out on the horizon as a game-changer: artificial intelligence (AI).
Many projects are demonstrating the immense potential of how AI can advance journalism. The Partnership for AI has produced a 10-step AI Procurement and Use guidebook for newsrooms looking to adopt AI tools. The Associated Press has actively engaged over 100 local newsrooms in online courses and pilot projects utilizing AI for various purposes, from sorting event pitches into a coverage planner to translating news alerts from English to Spanish.
Cal Poly also joined forces with CalMatters on an innovative project called the Accountability Desk. This initiative harnesses Cal Poly’s Digital Democracy AI technology and leverages CalMatters’ Glass House directory of California legislators to revolutionize investigative and public policy journalism.
At the ONA conference, I had the privilege of facilitating an AI brainstorming session hosted by The New York Times with a diverse group of experts from across our industry. While the group acknowledged the enthusiasm for AI in journalism, they also underscored the pressing need for transparency, education, and ethical considerations to guide its responsible integration into the field.
Here are the key questions the group raised for our industry to tackle in the next 12 to 24 months and some of my recommended action steps for small news organization to take right now.
Audience and public engagement
How can we harmonize AI and human engagement to ensure that AI technologies enhance the human touch in news consumption, production, and distribution? We need to explore scalability while maintaining human elements, addressing inequalities in AI’s impact, and navigating audience privacy concerns. We should also delve into AI’s role in identifying news sources and subscribers and examine its capacity to explain content while considering potential risks.
- One small step: Identify areas where AI can enhance engagement, such as personalized content recommendations, automated responses to user queries, or sentiment analysis of audience feedback.
Local news empowerment
We need to uncover the challenges and opportunities AI presents for local newsrooms, from content production to audience engagement and organizational adaptability. We must scrutinize AI’s role in preserving institutional knowledge, addressing biases, and understanding its economic implications for local news. Additionally, we need to explore the barriers to technological literacy and AI’s potential in fostering public accountability reporting at the local level.
- One small step: Arrange a play session for your staff to engage with established AI tools such as ChatGPT, Google Bard, Calude.ai, DALL·E, and other tools and report their observations. Initiate a list detailing what functionalities are effective and which ones encounter challenges or limitations.
Education skill development
Emphasizing comprehensive AI education and training for journalists, we need to examine the frameworks required for training and advocate for transparent collaborations between newsrooms and tech companies. Overcoming skepticism and fear of AI is also vital, as is addressing ethical considerations in journalism.
- One small step: Compile a list of essential AI knowledge that all members of your organization, from editorial to business, should currently possess.
Powering up reporting
We explore actionable approaches to strengthen reporting through AI, from sourcing to content creation. This includes AI’s role in content creation, ensuring accuracy and quality, and addressing concerns about job displacement. Furthermore, we uncover AI’s potential in data-rich journalistic endeavors.
- One small step: Allocate a modest budget to subscribe to a selection of AI tools and apply the same guidance as outlined in the Local News Empowerment recommendation.
Highlight AIs ability to discover imaginative methods of conveying narratives, leveraging vast databases, and working across different content formats while maintaining ethical considerations in content personalization.
- One small step: Select a few stories for AI experimentation, such as utilizing AI to transform text into video content or generating social media posts through AI.
In optimizing journalistic processes, we delve into AI’s role in summarization and transcription, language barriers, and content production enhancements. We also address resource constraints and costs.
- One small step: Identify recurring workflow and specific tasks that might not require human interpretation and explore if there are AI solutions to these tasks.
Ethical integration and transparency
Ensuring the ethical integration of AI into journalism is paramount. This involves embedding ethics in AI technology, combating biases, and ensuring transparency and accuracy. It also means distinguishing between journalism and other forms of content while enhancing AI’s accuracy and credibility.
- One small step: Initiate internal dialogues within your organization to pinpoint potential apprehensions associated with deploying AI for specific tasks. For instance, consider the concerns that may arise when using MidJourney for creating illustrations or utilizing ChatGPT to generate HTML codes.
As we stand at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and journalism, there is an evident need for a collective effort to shape the future of this dynamic partnership. While we have identified key questions and challenges, it’s equally important to establish a framework that ensures these conversations are not confined to silos and that the entire industry is included, with a particular focus on enhancing diversity and inclusion.
Four calls for action
- Universal standards and practices: Establish an industry-wide council representing diverse backgrounds to create ethical guidelines for AI integration in journalism. These standards should cover transparency, accountability, data privacy, and bias prevention.
- Inclusivity and diversity: Ensure a broad range of voices in AI discussions. Engage underrepresented communities, offer mentorship programs, and empower journalists and technologists of color to lead in AI development.
- Transparency and education: Prioritize transparency in AI usage and provide comprehensive AI education for journalists. Continual learning is vital to keep pace with AI advancements.
- Collaboration and information sharing: Encourage collaboration through industry events and collaborative projects. Sharing insights and best practices will accelerate responsible AI adoption.
In short, the fusion of AI and journalism holds tremendous potential, but it also raises complex questions that demand comprehensive and collaborative solutions. Establishing universal standards, promoting inclusivity, ensuring transparency, and fostering education are key pillars in navigating this transformative journey. By working together as an industry, embracing diversity, and continuously engaging in dialogue, we can harness the power of AI to enhance journalism while upholding its ethical and democratic values. It’s a collective effort that will shape the future of journalism for the better, ensuring that AI remains a powerful tool for truth, accountability, and storytelling.