On The Record: AI And Its Newsroom Potential

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Last year, a survey of newsrooms and publishers found that more than three-quarters of news organizations were using AI in “at least one of the areas across the news value chain of news gathering, production, and distribution.” 

It’s a somewhat broad categorization, but even if matters of production and distribution were carrying more of the weight than news-gathering here, the survey was still a fascinating, important look because the more publishers see how they can utilize AI for those purposes — as well as marketing and advertising and other automatable productivity tasks — the better the organization as a whole can operate. 

Last month, the Columbia Journalism Review released a study of 35 news organizations in which it found “many of the most beneficial applications of AI in news are relatively mundane,” with dynamic paywalls, transcribing, and “data analysis tools in news production” given as examples. “Contrary to some claims,” writes study author Felix M. Simon, “AI is far from a silver bullet for many news-related tasks and often brings significant limitations.”

Perhaps a truer gauge of AI’s use within the newsroom was somewhat answered recently with the news that 5 of the 45 finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for journalism disclosed using AI for their submissions. The Pulitzer Board required entrants for its 2024 journalism prizes to disclose whether AI was used in the researching, reporting, or telling of their submissions. 

As Nieman Lab reported, Pulitzer Prize administrator Marjorie Miller said AI “had an ‘oh no, the devil is coming’ reputation.” The board wanted to explore both its capabilities and its dangers, not restrict its usage because, as Miller said, the board “felt doing so would discourage newsrooms from engaging with innovative technology.”

It would be fascinating and helpful — to fellow newsrooms and general audiences alike — if the specifics behind how these nominees used AI technologies were also disclosed. We will find out the Pulitzer Prize winners on May 6, but as Simon writes in the CJR study, winners have likely already emerged when it comes to AI.

“News organizations that have been able to invest in research and development, devote staff time, attract and retain talent, and build infrastructure already have something of a head start,” Simon writes. “These ‘winners’ are also in a stronger position to demand better terms when negotiating with platforms and technology companies.”

“Journalism is not fundamentally altered by a single technology: It interacts with institutions and other forces in society and the economy.”


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