AI Robots vs Journalists: Threat or Opportunity?

In an age where modern technology impacts most aspects of daily life, it is fair to say that many people remain suspicious of its power.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is amongst the elements that arouse the most significant suspicion, particularly with regards to how news is disseminated.

A recent Press Gazette poll highlights that point perfectly, with 69 percent of respondents saying that they believed AI robots are a threat to journalism.

Many organisations already utilise tools that rely on AI tech to gather, produce and distribute information via online platforms.

For instance, Facebook relies on AI to personalise each user’s experience, providing them with content that is tailored to their individual preferences.

Outlets such as The Times, Bloomberg and PA Media are amongst a plethora of other organisations who use AI tech every day.

PA’s Radar (Reporters and Data and Robots) service is one such service, proving thousands of stories per month for its local news clients.

Radar editor, Joseph Hook, is adamant that the people who are viewing AI as a threat would revise their opinion if they fully understood how it worked.

“I think it doesn’t quite fit into how people assume AI is going to work in journalism,” said Hook. “It doesn’t do all the legwork for you – it’s using software and AI to scale up what we are putting out.”

“It also allows journalists to play to their strengths more. “It might be they take our stories in full, but a lot of the time we see journalists use it as a base and go out and find local case studies.”

“My instinct is that over time this will start to take on more of the less enjoyable repetitive work and allow journalists to go out and do the human element of the work.”

Reuters have also been using AI in recent times to speed up its processes in dealing with sports results and stock market reports.

Company bosses believe that the tech makes their operations more efficient and, if employed correctly, can help to stop the spread of misinformation.

That viewpoint is endorsed by Francesco Marconi, a professor of journalism at Columbia University in New York.

He was previously the head of the media lab at the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, one of the largest news organisations in the world.

Marconi has written a book on the subject entitled ‘Newsmakers, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism’ which debates whether AI is a threat or opportunity.

He argues that many media outlets are failing to keep pace with the tech and must adjust their business models to leverage AI to their advantage.

Marconi says that no more than 12 percent of a journalist’s tasks will be performed by AI and he believes that it will allow them to become more effective at their jobs.

For instance, AI can save reporters time by transcribing audio and video interviews, thus freeing them up to perform an increased amount of actual journalism.

Marconi acknowledges that the current media business model is broken, and he urges outlets to use AI to help them develop sustainable paid subscription services.

“Now is the time to lay the foundations for successful change,” writes Marconi. “For the news industry, that means rethinking how news is sourced and relayed to audiences. The result, AI-powered journalism, will require new levels of editorial and institutional oversight.

“Smaller newsrooms, in particular, are at great risk of falling behind if they don’t make artificial intelligence a key element in their transformation road map—and this will not require a big financial commitment, but it will require increased attention to training and culture change.”

While the Press Gazette poll highlights that people remain sceptical about AI, the expert view strongly suggests that it can augment journalism if implemented correctly.