19 July 2024

2023 is the “breakthrough year for artificial intelligence (AI) and its application for journalism,” according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, which points out that AI transcription tools are already in routine use in many newsrooms, some also use them for selecting stories they recommend to users, generating subtitles and text-to-speech.

AI has been perceived as the greatest threat to mankind in this era. It apparently causes concern for various business sectors, including the media.

Last month, a German tabloid Bild, the top-selling newspaper in Europe, announced a redundancy program for a range of editorial staff and some of those positions will be replaced by AI, as the company strives to be a “purely digital media company”.

Earlier this year, BuzzFeed, an American digital media player, said that the company will work with generative AI to help create content for the audience.

Several media outlets have experimented with “Artifact” or “TikTok for text”, a personalised news application providing AI-generated news summaries to readers, the Dall-E text to image app or United Robots, a text generation app, while others are attempting to introduce AI news anchors.

 

The good and the bad of AI

Despite the fact that many news editors, proofreaders, secretaries, photo editors and other positions in newsrooms have lost their jobs to AI, some journalists and academics believe that AI will do more good than harm.

“AI systems, as they stand right now, are here to support journalists. If you work together with AI, I think that’s the best we could do”, said Ishan Kukret, an award-winning environmental journalist at the ABU (Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union) News Group meeting and the 2023 Global News Forum in Sarawak, Malaysia.

At the Masterclass – AI in Newsrooms, Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, discussed the risks and opportunities of AI in newsrooms.

He started by giving an example of the case of a magazine editor who was discharged over an AI-generated Michael Schumacher interview, in which the content was considered ‘inappropriate’. Besides, the mixing of real news images with AI-generated ones, blurring the line between the truth and artifice causes further pollution of the information ecosystem.

The best of using generative AI could, however, be its ability to summarise long articles in a split second, therefore it can save plenty of time for journalists.

 

The implementation

Chatbots, like OpenAI ChatGPT, Google’s Bard or Character.AI, can provide excellent articles, as it generates content based on vast amounts of data from the internet.

Despite the content generated by them being free of plagiarism, as the chatbots are not copying somebody else’s work,  when that content is used by journalists and published on media outlets, what is of most concern is authenticity and journalistic integrity. That is the primary reason why some traditional newsrooms are reluctant to implement AI tools for producing news.

Some of them do, however, take advantage of digital technology and realise that it can help them save a considerable amount of time.

“We have been working on studying what type of AI we should implement or start putting to practice at the EBU newsroom in Geneva. So far, we are using it for transcription and translation”, said Emilio San Pedro Head of the EBU’s Eurovision News Exchange.

He explained how the EBU in-house AI tool works by putting up a tool for its members to use and when they put in what are called their ‘offers’, they can put their offers in and go into the transcription and translation tool. Then they can have their material transcribed and translated into English from many languages.

“Some of that material we can also use AI for, because it’s very quick and then we can check, just like with the translation, but not for writing a script or anything like that, because it’s too soon and we need to have the right safeguards in place before we can do that”.

 

The flip side

With more free time journalists have with the assistance of AI tools, there are concerns whether it will make journalists use less effort in the newsroom.

Andrew Prahl, Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, at Nanyang Technological University, said that “the effort remains the same, it’s just reallocated to different tasks.

He highlighted that, while letting technological tools like AI handle mundane tasks, a journalist has more time to do some other work. For example, they may have taken a lot of effort to figure out how to structure the information in the article, or maybe spent more time interviewing people or gathering data.

Nevertheless, in media outlets that rely heavily on AI-generated content, it is most likely that their journalists will spend time on fact-checking, to stave off the spread of fake news and misleading information. It is because, in many cases, AI produces unreliable information, as it is processed purely by the metadata available on the internet, which sometimes includes disinformation.

Like every other thing in this world, AI has pros and cons. Andrew Prahl gave an example of surgeons who got lost inside the hospital, just because they relied solely upon the navigator app, therefore they lost their innate navigating skill. “As we stop doing something or don’t do it so often, we kind of lose practice doing things and, as a result, we get worse”

He concluded that, once journalists start using AI for their tasks, whether it be gathering or verifying data, writing news articles, structuring information or interacting with people, there’s a risk that they will fall out of practice. Consequently “they personally are not able to perform it to a high level anymore, like they were able to in the past” he said.

 

Andrew Prahl, Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, at Nanyang Technological University.

AI assistant

When we put the keyword ‘AI in newsroom’ in Chat GPT, the result is an impeccable final paragraph for this man-made article.

“It’s important to note that, while AI offers several benefits, human journalists and editorial oversight remain crucial in maintaining journalistic integrity, verifying information, and upholding ethical standards in news reporting. AI is typically used as a tool to support and enhance the work of journalists, rather than replace them.”

By Jeerapa Boonyatus