The words Artificial Intelligence are no doubt sparking much excitement and fear around the world — and two words also used often when talking about the use of generative AI in newsrooms.
Rohit Saran, editorial advisor for India Today, chooses to focus more on the excitement around AI, saying it’s easy to do that since the technology is changing so fast. Everything said about AI today could be obsolete tomorrow, he told INMA members at the recent South Asia News Media Summit. And since we are in the beginning stages, Saran sees so many exciting uncertainties about what AI will and can do in the future.
There are some certainties already, though, that Saran can hang his hat on with the use of generative AI.
How AI betters journalism
“One certainty is that I think purely as a journalist, as a storyteller, and also to my colleagues on the business side, I think our ambitions can be bigger than we ever had. You can really be ambitious about the speed and quality of story you can do. The good thing about ambition is that the costs of achieving these ambitions are smaller than ever before.”
Saran sees a narrowing of the desirability and feasibility gap with the use of AI. Ambitions that some newsrooms had weren’t previously being fulfilled because it either took too much time, too much investment, or both. AI is reducing the cost and time to achieve certain ambitions.
An example Saran gave was journalists or newsrooms with ambitions to reach a much wider audience. With the use of AI, journalists can have their stories translated into multiple languages: “Suddenly they have something within their grasp or near grasp which will give them the ability to transcribe and translate and put it into an audio and video to truly a global audience.”
Text journalists can also become audio or video journalists quite easily using AI tools and expand readership infinitely.
“In the post-Internet, mobile world, it is so much easier to get readership than revenue,” Saran said. “And I think my colleagues and seniors on the business side have a much more difficult task ahead than journalists have. But so I feel that AI is really God sent for journalists for us to really up our quality and quantity.”
An example Saran gave was when a Finnish newspaper found they were attracting a heavy Ukrainian audience after the Ukraine war began. As soon as they found this out, they were able to use AI to translate their content into Ukrainian. The whole process took them a few weeks.
Another example is a French newspaper transcribing and translating its content into English using AI. This is so successful the company has a target of 100,000 English-language subscribers.
“And I think this whole term of ‘glocal,’ which we have talked about forever really, now comes into the true force because you can be very local and have the global audience with which your story has a global connect,” Saran said.
How AI helps newsroom workflow
Organising or restructuring the workflow in the newsroom is another big factor to creating space for AI to be productive.
“One thing I want to talk about is the silos, the skill silos that traditionally were there in almost all newsrooms, mostly print, but some variant of these silos existed in every newsroom,” Saran said. “You had a reporter, you had a desk, you had a rewriting team, you had a design team, you had a graphic team, you had an editing team and a production team.”
Saran sees AI as a way for one or two people to have the time and ability to work on a wider variety of tasks like ideating, writing, editing, and researching.
“I think this kind of power journalists never had. I'm really so excited about this for myself and my colleagues,” Saran said. “I worked in newsrooms, in print, audio, digital, and video where we saw the product was bundled, the outcome was bundled, but skills were unbundled. And now you are embracing a world where all of us have to do lot of things and happily so because means of doing that have become so much easier.”
Saran sees AI as a means to also help train good journalists who may be struggling in a certain area. He used an example of a reporter who may be excellent at gathering information and writing a story, but may struggle with finding good images, putting video to their articles, or coming up with good headlines.
“Now those good writers can create 20 headlines in the matter of one minute,” Saran said. “So I thought that if you are able to bundle your skills well, if you're able to break your silos, then the fear of job loss should be substantially reduced if not eliminated completely.”
How newsrooms should be using AI
India Today created and released an AI avatar this year. They call the anchor “Sana.” One of the more impressive things about how Sana was created is that it took India Today just a couple of months to launch the avatar once they started getting serious about creating it.
Sana, like many AI anchors, is multilingual and tireless.
“They can do hours and hours of programming and reading and they are ageless,” Saran said.
For media companies just starting out on their AI journey, Saran cautions against just focusing on where others are concentrating. For instance, newsrooms and researchers are talking a lot about how AI can improve their writing, when Saran thinks a bigger significance is in how fast and well AI can read.
“Imagine reading hundreds of pages of code documents, parliament speeches, and budget papers in India,” Sarah said. “Imagine 2,000 pages of budget documents being processed in a matter of seconds or minutes.”
A good place to start with AI, according to Saran, is figuring out what inside the newsroom is least efficient and what does the company want to do most efficiently. Then, media companies can start building their resources from there.
“I think in restructuring our newsrooms, we have to rethink between replacement hiring and restructuring hiring.”