The evolution of technology — most famously AI at the moment — is affecting the evolution of all businesses and verticals, providing unprecedented opportunities. But it is also introducing new challenges.
During the recent INMA South Asia News Media Summit, Dr. Shailesh Kumar, chief data scientist/Centre of Excellence in AI/ML at the telecommunications company Reliance Jio, explained some of the ways AI is transforming the news industry.
“If you look around, these are the best of times for all of us,” he said told INMA members. “We are surrounded by some amazing technologies and it is the convergence of these technologies that is creating the magic, right?”
That magic has transformed the world. And with the evolution of AI, use cases are exploding. As that happens, Kumar said the focus needs to be on responsibility: “It’s not about when and if AI will take over, it’s the question of will it be done responsibly or not.”
AI and the news media industry
Kumar examined the effects of AI on the news media industry through three frameworks:
The traditional way of thinking must change in all three of these areas because they are changing rapidly. One of the big changes in news generation is that journalists will go from creators to curators.
“If you think about how news is generated, you have journalists on the ground, they collect information, there is an event that happened, we [write a story], somebody edits it, and then it gets published,” he said. That paradigm is shifting, however, and he sees a new model in which reporters only collect facts, input them into a template, and generate an article.
“Now you have an article and the editor’s job is to do a fact check, make sure everything is OK. So the reporter and the editor’s relationship is now completely different with respect to the way news is generated,” he said.
“This is the new future of news. We may like it, we may not like it. Somebody will do it, and then we’ll all have to kind of adhere to it.”
Regardless of how publishers feel about it, they need to adapt to it as quickly as possible, he said: “Whoever will do it will succeed and go ahead much faster.”
Changes in news consumption
Technology is allowing for greater personalisation, allowing publishers to reach their audiences more effectively. AI will deepen the understanding, observing what individual consumers are interested in and allowing for what amounts to creating a personal “channel” for each user.
“Over a period of time, digital news companies powered by AI will become profile creation companies,” Kumar said. “And you will know how and why people consume certain news.”
That will lead to a news recommender system with profiles of every customer that knows which ones are interested in each story — and only deliver that story to them.
In addition to knowing what stories they’re interested in, AI will understand in what format each customer prefers to receive their news.
“Imagine you can create multiple formats of the same news. Some could be text only, text plus images, image only, video only, text plus video, immersive content, AR, VR, and all that. You can generate just the summary part of it, a full article, or an entire report of five pages.”
Different formatting systems will allow each piece of content to be delivered the way each user wants to receive it, and Kumar said language options will also be able to be customised. Such bespoke publishing will encourage higher levels of engagement and consumption.
Adding relevance for revenue
As news publishers move away from cookies, AI is stepping in to help them provide relevant advertising. Ads can be connected to an event or story and, using personalisation, publishers will be able to determine if the advertising content is relevant both to the event and to the consumer who is seeing it.
“Today we can build both these things and now you can combine that and then say this is the best ad for this person because either it is relevant to the news event or it is relevant to the consumer.”
That kind of personalisation will increase conversion rates, which will benefit both the advertiser and the publisher.
Pitfalls to watch for
AI’s ability to transform virtually all industries brings with it concerns and repercussions, and Kumar said it’s important for news media companies to be aware of its downsides. Deep fakes and hallucinations (AI making up false answers) are two of the biggest concerns, but the bigger challenge could be how it will affect jobs in the newsroom, he said.
“What will the journalists do? What will the editors do? What will the reporters do in the new world? That is something that we need to think about. How do we embrace it?”
He noted that one universal theme with new technology is that human history shows we consistently misuse it before learning how to use it well.
“This is happening with AI right now. We are misusing it in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are now privacy debates, regulatory debates happening in all countries.”
Regulations are needed because, already, AI has been widely open sourced, which makes it more vulnerable. Open sourcing is a powerful but dangerous thing because operators can use it in nefarious and manipulative ways, Kumar said. But for publishers, he added, the big question is whether to embrace or fear AI.