From June 4-7 the European Science-Media Hub organised a three-day Summer School AI and journalism for 80 young journalists in Strasbourg. The program covers topics like the future of journalism, AI and creativity in the media, algorithmic literacy and the ethical dimension of AI in journalism. Furthermore, the summer school included hands-on training on the use of new technologies for digital communication as well as discussions of case studies on the potential impact of AI on journalism and communication.
One of the tools that will be discussed is the EU-funded project INJECT, a tool for journalists who want to diversify and broaden their reporting.
What exactly can artificial intelligence (AI) mean for journalism?
Well, with the rise of AI over the past decade some media innovators have started to nurture the fantasy of robot journalists that automatically write all news stories. However, apart from writing short, highly predictable news articles about sports results, weather predictions or financial reports, robot journalists are still a long way off.
“The bottleneck is that present-day AI lacks knowledge about the world and lacks the ability to interpret information in its context”, says David Graus, an AI-researcher and data scientist working for FD Mediagroep, a media company that owns the financial newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad and the business radio station BNR Nieuwsradio in the Netherlands. Graus: “Robot journalists that make human journalists superfluous will not arrive in the foreseeable future.”
On the other hand, AI does offer a lot of opportunities for making journalism smarter. Funded by Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund (part of the Google News Initiative) Graus and his colleagues are working on two projects: Smart Journalism and Smart Radio.
David Graus : “In Smart Journalism we use AI to get the right article to the right person. In recent years we presented the online-readers of our financial newspaper every Sunday with a newsletter that lists the five best read articles of the week before. Everybody received the same list. Based on AI we have developed a tool that now presents every online-reader with a personalised list of five articles, based on what they have read in the past. In this way we can present also the less-read articles to readers who find them interesting.”
Implementing this AI-tool has not only resulted in more readership engagement in an absolute sense, but also to a broader variety of articles that have been read. A step farther is to not just get the right article to the right person, but to get the right information within an article to the right person. “Automatically making personalised summaries is our Moonshot-project”, says Graus. “We have developed a working system and over the next months we hope to turn it into a working product.” Graus sees especially a lot of potential for developing journalistic tools that can’t exist at all without AI.
David Graus : “Smart radio is an example. We have created a tool that automatically selects, cuts and tags radio fragments based on the preferences of a journalist or an ordinary listener. No human would be able to manually do the same for the 24 hours of radio produced every day, 7 days per week.”
The Smart Radio-application won in February 2019 the Marconi Online Award for innovations that create the radio of the future.
Mattia Peretti : “The project started in April. Our aim is to inform newsrooms globally about the potential of AI-powered technologies. AI can free journalists from some of the most trivial and boring tasks. Think about transcribing the audio recording of an interview. Think about writing a short, factual news article that is not much more than filling in a template with new data. This can already be automated. Human journalists can save this time and do something more creative and useful.“
At the LSE Mattia Peretti supports the project leader professor Charlie Beckett and they receive the help of one research assistant. As a team they developed a survey that is being sent out to a selected number of newsrooms around the world. Mattia Peretti: “We are going to research how AI is already used in the newsroom. What are the consequences for the editorial process? What are the financial consequences for newsrooms? We will look for the best case studies and share them with newsrooms that have not started yet.”
Mattia Peretti : “The aim is to present the conclusions of the survey in an online-report in the fall of 2019. We hope to develop ideas and guidelines that will help newsrooms to think about AI. We will put a specific emphasis on the ethical side. How can we make sure that AI in the newsroom is implemented properly and ethically?”
Apart from the positive impact that AI will have on journalism, there are, like with any other technology, also possible negative impacts. The automatic generation of content may lead to some problems, either because of the misuse of “bad actors” or as unexpected effect of good purposes and changes responding to market demands. Newsbots can spread misinformation and propaganda. Algorithms might take biased decisions. AI can generate very realistically looking fakes faces and fake videos. This can lead to a cat and mouse game between the generation of fake information and the detection of fake information.
The EU-project InVID develops a knowledge verification platform to detect emerging stories and assess the reliability of newsworthy video files and content spread via social media.
Last but not least, another key research area of the LSE-project is the interaction between journalists and their AI-tools. “Newsrooms are very much aware that AI is going to change the work of journalists. New training will need to be developed and we will also look this year at what training is needed. Like many other sectors, journalism can’t escape the influence of AI-technologies. Let’s then find the best way to get a positive impact.”