We’ve had a spring of intense discussion in the news media industry around AI — to the point where it’s sometimes felt hard to keep up with the latest learnings, tools, and trends.
The Nordic AI in Media Summit in Copenhagen in May provided a welcome opportunity for some much-needed collective stock-taking.
Here’s a reflection on how much the ground has shifted in this space since the release of ChatGPT late last year. United Robots was asked to the summit to share insights from scaling automated journalism in newsrooms across the world.
The AI we deploy to do this is rules-based — a type that’s been in use in media for various tasks for years. Nevertheless, robot journalism has always been a challenging sell. I get the sense, though, that in the past six months, we’ve gone from being perceived as the crazy new kids on the block to, essentially, a safe pair of hands.
What we offer was seen by many in the news industry as challenging, but now it’s become relatively unproblematic. This shift was apparent at workshops we recently hosted at the PPA Festival in London and INMA Media Subscription Summit in Stockholm in March, as well as in Copenhagen.
So, where are things at now? These are some of my takeaways from the event.
We’re likely at peak hype curve
In his keynote, Nick Diakopoulos, associate professor at Northwestern University in Illinois (USA) looked at the hype curve triggered by AI. He provided historical context, pointing out that AI has been around in news media since IBM used it to produce news summaries as early as 1958.
“Hype comes and goes,” Diakopoulos said. “With generative AI, we’re now at peak hype again. We need to quickly move into the next stage of the curve, start to sort out hype from reality, and figure out what this tech can really offer our industry.”
Speaking during the panel “Spurring AI innovation via collaboration?,” Charlie Beckett, director of the JournalismAI project at the London School of Economics, also talked about the need to move beyond the hype: “There will likely be a lot of talk of the coming slaughter of news brands. But we are here today! With some fantastic Danish brands who are innovating brilliantly.
“We should focus on using this tech to empower us. We face massive opportunities as well as some real risks, and it’s key to have a bigger discussion around the ecosystem of journalism, and how it’s affected,” Beckett said.
Trusted news brands are at an advantage.
Ezra Eeman, change director at Belgian/Dutch publishing group Mediahuis provided strategic and practical context in his keynote on how AI is shaping publishing today and tomorrow. Like Beckett, Eeman emphasised that AI is a tool, and that the starting point should be identifying what problems you need to solve.
“Look for any friction you can remove in your processes or service,” he said. “Start with the why — it’s not because it’s possible that it’s valuable. And make sure you have a clear editorial and ethical framework in place.”
Eeman also laid out the secondary effects he foresees in a world where anyone can use generative AI to gain “creative superpowers.” “Generative AI has the potential to level the professional playing field in terms of content creation, which, in turn, raises the bar for real journalistic output,” Eeman said. “Differentiation and uniqueness is more important than ever.”
He pointed out the differentiation opportunity includes trust specifically. “Trusted news brands have a huge advantage because there will be only more disinformation out there. Make sure that you bank on the trust you have and become a destination in a way that delivers value,” Eeman said.
Don’t interview robots!
Speakers participating in the Ethics of generative AI panel discussed guidelines for how generative AI should be used in the context of journalistic values. It was good to hear a clear message on how we must not anthropomorphise these systems. Diakopoulos said, “Don’t interview bots. It’s an improper way to use them and disingenuous when writing about them. Treat them as the bland technology they are.”
We are only seeing the beginning of how AI will transform how we work in media. However, good journalism is about people. In Copenhagen, it was encouraging to see how much good and proactive work is being done by colleagues in this space. I encourage you to watch the presentations for a deeper dive into where our industry is currently at in terms of AI best practices.
Banner photo credit: Ioana Blaut