AI and humans can work together in newsrooms

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


As AI continues emerging, news media companies need to understand how it affects them, what tools they need, and how they can use AI as an ally instead of an enemy. During this week’s Webinar, Dr. Mario Garcíprovided a roadmap for how companies can begin navigating this new territory.

During AI: The next revolution for content creation, García, CEO and founder of García Media and senior advisor on news design and adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, shared insight from his upcoming book by the same name. His 15th book will be available in January, and he said it was the most difficult one to write.

While his previous books allowed him to draw on his own experiences, García explained that this was new territory. AI is still in its infancy and remains controversial in the industry: “It has philosophical issues, ethical issues, issues of will it replace the work and the creativity of humans? This revolution is like a tsunami coming into newsrooms.”

For his 15th book, Dr. Mario García looks at how AI is changing content creation. The book is being published in January 2024.
For his 15th book, Dr. Mario García looks at how AI is changing content creation. The book is being published in January 2024.

AI and the human touch

García was quick to point out that AI is dependent on humans. Everything it has learned through machine learning is based in human knowledge and it requires human prompts: “It all begins with human inputs. The robot, or artificial intelligence, feeds input back to the human, but a human has to be there at the end to supervise what the robot has given you.”

He referred to it as a dance in which humans and AI have not yet found their rhythm. But, as is always the case with a dance, the two parties must learn to communicate and work together.

“AI right now has, in terms of machine learning, the equivalent of 175 billion word parameters. So it’s a fabulous assistant to have by your side because it really has a collective memory that you as a human could never in a million years have,” García said. “It is your assistant with a large memory, and that memory comes from machine learning.”

And that’s not all; his book identifies seven ways newsrooms can use AI:

These are seven ways newsrooms can leverage AI.
These are seven ways newsrooms can leverage AI.

“These are the seven areas that I found most newsrooms are already open to using it this way,” he said, but he also reminded that humans must remember their role in guiding the output.

“The better the prompt, the better the results that the bot will give you,” García said, adding that longer prompts will yield better results. He encourages using human creativity to challenge the AI’s imagination when asking it to generate ideas: “There is a newspaper in California that from time to time will say, ‘give me the results of this meeting like a Seinfeld episode.’ Or ‘give me this as a scene from Friends, the television series.’ So you can tell AI very precisely the style in which you would like something done.”

He encouraged giving the AI a role to play, such as telling it to act like it is a journalist building a mobile story. García then shared the results he received when using that tact and asked AI to help build a story template. In a matter of seconds, AI had created a template with all the features he had requested, and all that was required was to place the information in the areas where it was needed.

AI in the workflow

Page automation is another area where AI can improve workflows. García noted that many Scandinavian newspapers already use AI to build their print pages. AI provides templated options and an editor or designer can choose which template to use. Once that template is selected, AI will place the stories and photos, saving an enormous amount of time.

Many CMS already offer the ability to use AI, providing  an opportunity for humans and robots to work together, García said.

AI is also useful in the design workflow as long as there are humans at the beginning and end of the process.
AI is also useful in the design workflow as long as there are humans at the beginning and end of the process.

“The pages of the newspaper are all built using an AI component, but humans participate at the  beginning and at the end, and the templates have been created by humans.”

The art of the prompt

García stressed the importance of writing the correct prompt to gather information and said prompt engineering is emerging as a necessary skill. Being clear and specific about what information you want and providing constraints will help. You can play around with tone, asking for something to be written in a satirical manner or in a certain style, and ask for opinions and perspectives. 

That same approach can be used for ChatGPT-4 to analyse or create an image. García shared an image created by AI that followed his prompt to design book illustrations in the style of Italian designer Massimo Vignelli, using red, black, and white as the primary colours.

Using the correct prompts to guide AI resulted in book illustrations done in the style of Massimo Vignelli.
Using the correct prompts to guide AI resulted in book illustrations done in the style of Massimo Vignelli.

“Once I decided on the style, I created a description for the prompt, and then I would feed paragraphs from the chapters of my book so the chatbot could actually create illustrations related to that particular chapter,” he explained. 

 The value for news media companies is that, once they develop guidelines for AI and design, AI will quickly be able to contribute to the visual appeal with original art produced in seconds. But it’s important that news media companies put those guidelines in place immediately.

“If you do not already have guidelines, you need to have some because there are people in your organisation using AI and you don’t want them to do their own things based on their enthusiasm,” he cautioned. “Generative AI tools are exciting but are currently unreliable. And there is no room for unreliability in our journalism.”

The unreliability has already been seen in cases where AI was unchecked and stories ran without human oversight. In one instance, a bot covering high school sports ran the same paragraph three times at the beginning of the story. 

 “This proves the point that if you’re going to rely on AI to cover stories … then you need to have a human who will verify what is going on there.”

Partnering for the future

For those concerned that using AI will diminish their creativity, García cited a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group indicating that 90% of participants who used AI for ideation felt that their creative performance had improved.  

“Artificial Intelligence allows for two things to happen,” García said. “It provides inspiration, which in turn fosters creativity, and it offers surprises that perhaps the human involved had not thought about or had access to.

“So let the dance between human and robot begin.”

About Paula Felps

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