New York Times’ executive editor shares thoughts on AI, 2024 election coverage

By Rashi Mishra

City, University of London

London, United Kingdom


The upcoming presidential elections in the United States is an odd situation between disinterested news consumers and a candidate’s campaign being partly waged in a courtroom, Joseph Kahn, executive editor at The New York Times, told delegates at the INMA World Congress of News Media in London on Wednesday. 

The upcoming presidential elections in the United States is “very unusual,” he said. “We have very familiar and incompetent candidates. Someone who is running for the second term after losing in 2020. Both are elderly, 77 years old and 81 years old. There is a very high level of concern for, even antipathy about the American electoral system at the moment.”

The New York Times has to do more than provide a platform for information — it must provide a contextualised and complete version of a situation, Joseph Kahn, the company's executive editor, said.
The New York Times has to do more than provide a platform for information — it must provide a contextualised and complete version of a situation, Joseph Kahn, the company's executive editor, said.

The year being important for elections in every major democracy and observing the changes since past election cycles in the United States, Kahn called the upcoming elections challenging to cover given the non-involvement and disinterest among news consumers generally observed in early stages of elections.  

Strategies and challenges around political coverage

While the political team of The New York Times has grown compared to the last election cycle. With big polling and real time election data, the media organisation was unable to gather the same degree of interest from the news consumers as in the past.

“Partly because the candidates are familiar, partly because they are older, partly because the election season so far is actually dominated by the criminal trials for a candidate,” Kahn said. “It’s a slightly odd situation that the campaign is partly being waged in a courtroom (in Manhattan) at the moment.”

Answering on how the company, which prides itself as being independent, sometimes could be seen practising both-sideism, Kahn said they do not practise both-side journalism in a way that is being taught conventionally:

“We won’t take two statements by opposing groups, one of which is inaccurate, misinformation, or highly misleading, the other side is factual or verifiable and step aside and let the reader figure it out for themselves.”

The editor clarified the both-side trope is not the same thing as independence to him or the organisation. Iterating that the focus should be to follow facts wherever it leads and to keep opinions aside, and to look at wide perspectives and opinions, he further said the job of a media organisation is to place in the hands of the readers a world-rounded report with facts and perspectives and leave it to them to make the best decision.

“We are not partisan. That’s not the same thing as we have the equal view of the misinformation and the real information,” Kahn added.

On dealing with conspiracy theories and inaccurate information, Kahn said it is not to completely leave them out of the report. It is important to report what they were saying in the same breath essentially to contextualise it. 

“One does not ignore or censor the other side’s view but actually report on it fully and give a sense of what is accurate,” Kahn said, emphasising on the importance of giving a contextualised and complete version of the situation. 

Refocusing on the electoral climate in the United States, the executive editor acknowledged that covering Donald Trump could prove to be a challenge:

“When you have a candidate who does regularly indulge in conspiracy theory or depart from the facts, and hold the audience captive in long soliloquies without any real information ... we have to do more than just provide a platform for that information.”  

On the other hand, there was also a need to cover what Trump puts on Truth Social, a social media platform owned by him, his rallies, giving a forsense of that to the people — along with some version of fact checking on real time while also giving coverage to the people. 

“The problem at the moment actually is not giving Trump the platform to say whatever he wants,” Kahn said. “It is making sure that we give people a full sense of who he is.” 

The potential of AI

An in-depth discussion on Artificial Intelligence (AI) being used in The New York Times newsroom and ambitions and concerns for the next 12-24 months brought out Kahn’s leaning on AI as “cautiously optimistic.”

While realising how generative AI and other AI tools have made things easier in the newsroom — in relation to editing capabilities, content management systems, harnessing data sets, creating visualisation, synthetic voice, text to speech, listening to the articles and reports — the media house was looking hard at how AI can aid in translation from English into Spanish, as a high priority.

“But eventually The New York Times will be made available into other languages,” Kahn added. “The translation tools are promising, but they are not quite there yet. But text to speech is at point.” 

Beyond AI use, the newsroom is covering all aspects of the development of AI, competition in Silicon Valley, and uses of this across various industries. So that there can be robust coverage of all aspects of this regardless of what the company is doing, Kahn said, “The New York Times actually has a lawsuit against open AI. We have done an intentional job of separating newsroom from the company’s litigation.”

About Rashi Mishra

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