Denník N publishes AI-generated illustration on its front page

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Denník N’s chief digital officer sees the potential of AI-generated art to supplement traditional illustrators rather than replace them.

In December 2022, Slovakia’s national newspaper Denník N published its first AI-generated drawing. By January 2023, it was using generative AI to illustrate 10%-12% articles every day.

“We don’t use AI because it is cheaper than original photos or art,” explained Tomas Bella, chief digital officer of Denník N, in an interview with INMA. “We use it because it is quicker and helps to replace bad stock photos and improve overall visual quality.”

The visual workflow

In Bella’s 100-person newsroom, reporters and editors select photos from the wires and stock libraries under only general supervision of a design director. Every day they file 30 to 40 new articles that need illustrations. 

  • 70% articles are news reports, illustrated with original photos from staff photographers or the wires. 

  • 30% articles are features or analyses that used to be illustrated most frequently with photos from libraries, such as Adobe Stock.

“Some topics are hard to illustrate — for example, about mortgages — and when we write about them repeatedly, reporters sometimes use the same stock photo over and over,” Bella said. 

Denník N hires freelance artists to illustrate longer, more important pieces, but it is more expensive and usually takes days from the assignment to the delivery. Therefore, original art is not believed to be viable for the daily grind at a newspaper with 68,000 digital subscribers.

Onboarding AI to the newsroom

Last autumn, the capabilities of generative AI to create visually stunning and unique images caught the attention of Bella, who started playing with Midjourney, an AI model similar to OpenAI’s DALL-E or Stable Diffusion.  

Bella became fascinated by the images he saw on the Web and used Midjourney to illustrate his own articles. Then he talked to others in the newsroom about the potential of using it to replace bad stock photos with AI-generated drawings and sketches.

The design director was sceptical, but the editor-in-chief was intrigued enough to try it out. Soon, 10 journalists began using Midjourney, which they found easy to learn and affordable for the publication. They set up a Slack channel to share effective prompts.

The subscription to Midjourney with a commercial licence costs US$600 per year, or as much as only three months of Adobe Stock’s most comprehensive plan.

Over time, the team got comfortable to illustrate with AI its front page story in print and digital.

High hopes and concerns

“The reaction from the audience, and especially technology enthusiasts, has been positive,” noted Bella. The illustrations are clearly labelled as created with the assistance of AI.

Some readers raised ethical questions about, for example, the impact of AI on human illustrators. “We continue to commission human artists for signature articles,” answered Bella, declaring to follow a global debate on responsible use of AI. 

He acknowledged copyright lawsuits against AI companies for scraping artists’ work from the Web without their consent, which are not resolved yet. 

Non-artists like himself benefitted from AI because it helped them to express themselves in ways they never could. The results, he admitted, were rather basic and lacked consistent style.

“As real artists learn how to use this technology, the possibilities for creating visually stunning and unique images are endless,” he said, adding there was also the potential for a combination of AI-generated art and traditional illustration methods to create a unique style for the publication and its marketing.

“We need to find our own style before everybody starts using AI and readers get bored with it.”

Tomas Bella of Denník N and Lukas Görög of Die Presse will host a workshop on generative AI at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm on March 8-10.

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About Greg Piechota

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