Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently the hype in all industries, including journalism. While the discussion often revolves around ethics, the question of how it changes the everyday work in the newsroom remains unanswered for many journalists. However, the opportunities of AI are manifold and can add value to all steps of the journalistic working process. All of these aspects were discussed at the first edition of the European Youth Science-Media Days (EYSMD) which took place from 4 to 7 June 2019 in Strasbourg.
Mattia Peretti is the manager of “Journalism AI”, a project of the Google News Initiative and Polis, a journalism think-tank. According to him, artificial intelligence is integrated into newsrooms in many ways and enables journalists to improve news gathering, production and distribution.
News gathering & AI
Eliminating fake news is just one of the benefits AI provides to journalists during the news gathering process. With the help of the technology, research can be performed much faster and information can be correlated quickly and efficiently. For example, it allows journalists a speedy fact check of public statements. There are applications which can track down breaking news so that journalists are not tied down to grunt work.
Machine learning is being used to highly personalize the responder experiences and to grow their real engagement. An intelligent news assistant can remind the journalist if there’s something important that should be covered, it recognizes trends in social media or search queries or highlighting patterns in historic coverage.
The “communication” between journalists and AI needs a lot of learning from both sides. News gathering is only the first step of the process. As a Head of Cooperation Projects at Deutsche Welle, Wilfried Runde has managed to integrate numerous technologies to tell big stories, using AI for facilitating the work of journalists in their pursuit for finding relevant information on major issues of public interest all across Europe. At the ESMH Summer School on AI & Journalism, he spoke about concrete tools that DW offers for journalism in order to fasten the reporting process, the limits of these tools and how will they evolve in the near future.
Find the FULL TRANSCRIPT of the interview here.
News production & AI
Since algorithms can access, sort and interpret big amount of data much faster and more reliably than humans do, they can be used by journalists to generate summaries and to automate routine reporting, such as the coverage of sport events and election results. This is the case with The Washington Post, Bloomberg and Deutsche Welle which, according to Mattia Peretti, are already able to create “entirely automatic content at scale with great quality”.
Robotic writers provide these newsrooms with a template that creates stories very quickly. Instead of sending dozens of journalists to an event, publishers rely on the AI technology which automatically gathers data from different sources and then structures it within the template.
“This means you can do more with fewer resources,” said Mićo Tatalović, Chair of the Board of the Association of British Science Writers.
Other than speeding up the writing step—Heliograph, the robot reporter of The Washington Post, produced around 800 articles for the last election coverage—AI technology is now able to help reporters in verifying information (Claimbuster can do automatic live fact-checking) and producing visual content (in a few minutes Lumen5 turns texts into videos).
The automated tasks in news production open up more access to information for journalists. The AI tools that generate short summaries, allow reporters to take on the role of editors instead of starting their work from scratch. In this sense, the AI technologies augment newsrooms and leave journalists more space and time for ethical considerations.
Tatalović explains how AI technologies diversify the job of the reporter
The introduction of AI technologies to newsrooms lead to major changes of the editorial structures. While some newsrooms already have innovation teams, a big part of whose work is AI system development, other media outlets have started integrating AI experts with the existing editorial teams.
News distribution & AI
Once journalists hold a ready-to-publish story in their hands, the job of AI is not over. How can the story reach a large audience? Preferably an audience that is interested in that certain topic? The answer is personalization, meaning the distribution of content that appears tailor-made for its audience.
This, on the one hand, has a lot of positive sides. For example, algorithms of platforms like Netflix or HBO help users to discover things that they had not discovered beforehand and save time searching for content that matches their taste.
On the other hand, when it comes to news distribution and social media the case is quite another story. In the centre of the discussion is a filter bubble that provides users only with information that matches their current interests and closes the spectre of diverse topics. That is why the users should be aware and use the personalization of content wisely.
Journalists must not neglect the existence of AI tools. This is what the President of the research association EuroScience Michael Matlosz said. “The tools exist! People will be using them, there’s no reason to not use them. And they can be really effective and very helpful. We just have to be careful not to rely on them totally and to abandon our judgement. That’s all.”, he explained.
It sounds quite simple – “that’s all”. But what does it mean not to abandon our judgement? Matlosz explained that what reporters need is tools that gather, sort and treat information very quickly. Also, to give preliminary suggested conclusions coming out of that information. But Matlosz also emphasized that journalists must always be critical to what AI gives them. To have vigilance that they should always check their sources and make sure they are not faced with information which is incorrect, inaccurate or inappropriate. Because in the end of the day, the journalist, not the machine, has the ultimate responsibility.
“It’s the same way you do anything else – if you are building a house and you are building with bricks. In the beginning you should make sure that the proved bricks are good quality. And once you are convinced that you don’t need to check every single brick before you put it down.”, Michael Matlosz concludes.
So, it’s up to us, the journalists, what house our profession will live in after a couple of years. Because common success is in fact the success of many individuals. Each one of us must choose and use bricks wisely so that after a couple of years we can have sustainable, secured and well-organized home. A cozy one. Artificial Intelligence knocks on our doors. So, think about how you are going to welcome the new member.
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