Times are changing faster and faster every day, especially since the appearance of the Internet in the era of globalization. Artificial Intelligence applied to journalism is becoming a part of this transition.
But what is Artificial Intelligence exactly? As said in the 2018 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s report entitled How UK Media Cover Artificial Intelligence, it is “a collection of ideas, technologies and techniques that relate to a computer system’s capacity to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence”.
Artificial Intelligence concerns all kind of jobs: during the ESMH Summer School Artificial Intelligence & Journalism, experts, stakeholders, journalists and scientists reflected on how it will affect investigative journalism.
“With the help of smart machines, journalists can do their job better. There are so many things that you can do with machines that make journalism more efficient and interesting”, says Carl-Gustav Linden, leader of the University of Helsinki Immersive Automation Project.
Creativity and AI irruption
As any creative profession, such as painting or literature, quality investigative journalism has the human ingredient among its added values. It can be a product of a journalist with a specific style, a different way of presenting information or just an experience that supports their work. With the irruption of AI, the creativity element would be put aside or, if the production of the piece is entirely artificial, it would directly disappear. What would people think about automatically-generated content?
According to Stephan Hall, who leads the World Economic Forum’s Media, Entertainment and Information Initiative, “it depends on the perspective of the individual and the user and what they really want. Some people are looking for much more personalization and that is where AI and digital technologies can be more effective and valuable. On the other hand, some people like the authenticity that they can get from something created by a human, so it really depends. At the moment, we are seeing more and more content created by new technologies but whether or not people want to pay for it and buy that content is very much according to the perspective of the user”.
Head of Research and Cooperation Projects at Deutsche Welle Wilfried Runde adds he does not “see AI developing specific writing styles autonomously. The creative process (concept, interviewing, writing, filming, editing) will remain core journalistic tasks done by humans for many years to come”.
Even so, new technologies can represent a huge challenge in journalists’ daily work. Mattia Peretti, who leads the ‘Journalism AI’ project of the London School of Economics, affirms “many journalists are leaving newsrooms because they cannot cope with so many technologies coming up, so we need to be more thoughtful when it comes to apply AI”.
Lack of resources, lack of training
Here, training comes into play. And media companies themselves can provide it. In some countries, the main media groups are already doing it. Nevertheless, Google is leading the way, for example in Portugal or Greece. “In Greece, journalists have been trained with Google in this regard. That is one of the biggest problems. Media have no resources for this and there is no one else balancing that”, states Linden. “Journalists are depending on Google to get AI training tools. There is a lack of education”.
On the other hand, even if there is no ‘crystal ball’ for the experts, they think there will be emerging roles for journalists. One of them is the Artificial Intelligence editor, “who is responsible for overseeing the use of AI”, suggests media consultant Amelia Pisapia. “Journalists have the skills to do this, because this requires a lot of critical thinking. They are incredible problem solvers and I think that they are prime to do this work already”, she continues.
For journalists, the solution might be “read and study” as much as they can, as Amelia points out. “We need to be transparent in what we do, we have a big problem of trust, that has nothing to do with AI, and we need to keep doing a better job on that and try to find a new way to engage with our audiences”, Mattia Peretti adds.
The implementation of AI in European newsrooms is not spread evenly, and this shows a gap between the North and the South. “There is not so much experimentation in European newsrooms on average, mostly because newsrooms cannot afford it. But in terms of geographical differences, Nordic countries are always at the font front of innovation”, says Mattia Peretti.
Given all this, will journalists need to get data-savvy in the future in order to keep their job? Carl-Gustav Linden believes so. “It is journalists’ work”, he says. As for Linden, data interpretation is closely related to the conventional interviewing process. “You interview data just as you interview people. You ask data “what’s the story here?” It is like a different interview technique which, in essence, uses the same principle as a human interview”. “Understanding and working with data will be a core part of journalistic training now and to an even greater extend in the future”, Runde underlines.
Good news is in-depth, quality journalism will most probably remain in the hands of human professionals. “Machines are useful for getting basic information of data sets and finding ideas, what the story could be about”, Linden argues. “The basic journalism skills are still the same and it is easy to learn how to use new tools, so that is not a problem”.
This means, most hopefully, that machines will be in charge of ‘easier’, more superficial stories. “We need to make sure human journalists check what machines do, anyways. They [machines] do specific tasks very well but do not know the context, so that is where a journalist needs to be more active”, Linden adds. After all, AI could be an opportunity for flesh and blood journalists to focus on quality pieces. “Unfortunately, nowadays lots of journalists are doing the work that machines should be doing: writing simple, basic news stories which does not add value to the reader”, he concludes. “So journalists should move up in the value chain and do more valuable stories. That is what the public is willing to pay for”.
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