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Schibsted, Aftonbladet encourage young people to reimagine news coverage with IN/LAB programme

By Martin Schori

Aftonbladet

Stockholm, Sweden

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By Agnes Stenbom

Schibsted/Tinius Trust

Stockholm, Sweden

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In recent years, we’ve seen an interesting paradox: Young people want to consume news, but the conventional presentation often leaves them disengaged.

A plethora of surveys reaffirms this, highlighting the need for a fundamental shift in how news is delivered. Despite the leaps media has taken toward offering news via text, video, or sound, the foundational approach has largely remained static — echoing the era of print newspapers, TV, and radio.

Driven by the belief that it’s time to drastically reinvent the presentation of news, and recognising this transformation must involve future news consumers, the innovation lab owned by Schibsted and Tinius Trust, IN/LAB, launched the News Changemaker Program.

The “News Changemaker Program’s” Zakaria Bileh Hassan, Jumane Murad, and Nardos Abrha flanked by Aftonbladet’s Martin Schori on the left and IN/LAB's Agnes Stenbom and Belenn Bekele on the right. Photo credit: Amanda Lindgren
The “News Changemaker Program’s” Zakaria Bileh Hassan, Jumane Murad, and Nardos Abrha flanked by Aftonbladet’s Martin Schori on the left and IN/LAB's Agnes Stenbom and Belenn Bekele on the right. Photo credit: Amanda Lindgren

In the programme, we hired some of our toughest critics to help us understand existing issues and prototype solutions for the future. We partnered with a community youth centre and hired ten people aged 16 to 19 years old from their network after a rigorous recruitment process.

We targeted outer city areas due to the comparatively lower trust and consumption of Swedish media in these regions. Their mission was clear: 1) identify existing problems affecting their relationship with, consumption of, and trust in editorial news media, and 2) create speculative solutions or “concept prototypes” through a design-thinking process.

The programme yielded six speculative concept prototypes, brought to life through professional 3D animation. These included features like an on-demand AI “news therapist” and a time-boxed curation service. What all ideas (which we have published in more detail) have in common is that they are ideated by and for young consumers who currently see little to no value in consuming news.

One of the young changemakers’ ideas was “News as Music.” After seeing the response it got in our newsrooms, we decided to build this out to a testable experience together with Aftonbladet, Scandinavia’s largest news site.

The result of our work was a prototype news experience where users could choose between:

  1. Reading an AI-generated summary of the news to the beat of AI-generated music, which enhances the experience.
  2. Listening to AI-generated rap songs, based on a news text.

The experiment was tested live on the front page of Aftonbladet in May 2023. Our target audience was several thousand young users (ages 18 to 36).

The response was overwhelmingly positive, with both the instrumental and rap version drawing users’ engagement. As one of our changemakers, Jumane, 17, said, “I like both modes, depending on what mood I’m in. The instrumental part felt good because it added a feeling to the news. I liked the rap a lot because it made the news experience fun!”

While this experiment was encouraging, it also raised important ethical questions. An obvious one is what happens to the copyright of AI-generated music? The AI-generated rap is also, as hip-hop tends to be, loaded with some values. That’s not how we traditionally report news, where we instead strive to report news neutrally.

News as music may not be exactly what we should do in the future. But what’s absolutely clear is that we need to try things out, challenge old conventions, and listen to the news consumers of the future.

Aftonbladet and AI

For Aftonbladet, it was natural to join this project. The newspaper, founded in 1830 and with a daily reach of more than 4 million unique visitors (out of a population of 10 million), has always strived to be on the frontline of technology.

“News as Music” is just one of many initiatives and tools Aftonbladet is employing with the help of AI technology. Some are already in place, such as automatic transcription of interviews and subtitling of videos.

A couple of weeks ago we also launched AI-generated article summaries, where users can choose to get articles in shorter versions. Early results indicate the service is widely popular among young users and that it, perhaps surprisingly, encourage more people to read the whole article.

What we learned so far from working with AI

We have learned we need to challenge the way we present news, and we need to listen to the future news consumers. When developing news products, we always have to make sure they respond to user needs rather than doing stuff because we can and because it’s “cool.”

Also, it is crucial to be transparent internally and externally on how we will relate to the new technology. Should we publish AI-generated content? How do we use it in our daily lives? The answer was an AI policy that we published online.

Finally, it has been essential to engage the entire editorial team in this journey. The evolution of AI stands apart from many other technologies that have entered the media landscape in recent years, not solely due to its rapid advancement. Concepts like podcasts or video content on our platform are easily grasped by all. However, AI tends to be perceived as too technical, causing many to shy away from it.

To address this, we’ve initiated a series of educational programmes and inspiring lectures. These efforts have yielded positive results and have significantly improved our coverage of AI-related topics at the editorial level.

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