As part of our Collectif series (see more here), Autentika’s Michał Samojlik argues that when it comes to AI, newsrooms don’t need innovation for innovation’s sake. Instead, the need should precede the solution, and AI tools should be employed to relieve journalists – not complicate their work.
I have had close to 100 conversations with media experts and practitioners this year, and you would be surprised how many of them said that “AI is not for us” or “It’s not the right timing”.
And I understand it very well.
According to the London School of Economics’ recently published report, “Generating Change”, 85% of newsrooms have experimented with artificial intelligence technologies to varying degrees. However, four in ten news organisations have not significantly changed their approach to artificial intelligence in the newsroom by 2019.
Why? Newsrooms lack the resources and the technological expertise to integrate AI into editorial systems successfully. Although the potential of AI is tantalising for many, even a sketchy analysis of the state of existing tools in newsrooms forces a modest approach to the possibility of major change.
In fact, many newsrooms do not need fancy AI wizards. They need straightforward and efficient tools that enhance the journalistic process, encourage collaboration and multi-user editing, and seamlessly integrate essential elements like fact-checking, SEO optimisation or channel-specific customisation.
In our recently published trend book Newsroom of Tomorrow, we asked André Basse, the Managing Director of SPIEGEL Tech Lab GmbH, one of the most technologically advanced media companies in Europe, what they are doing with AI. He said that the lab was piloting various AI products, but the core of their work is to understand the usability of the solutions developed and their value to journalists. The same is true for Burda Media. No AI hype. “We focus on tools that can speed up the work of editors and how we can integrate them into our publishing systems”,” says Maciej Klepacki, CEO at Burda Media Polska.
I would say this is a smart approach. With technological innovations, the need should precede the solution – not the other way around. A good example is the Norwegian local newspaper iTromsø, which has developed an AI mechanism that searches municipal archives for reports on the development of buildings and land – a pressing concern in the region. What used to take hours for humans now only takes minutes for AI – and, as we hear from Lars Adrian Giske, project manager and web content editor at iTromsø, “the results are impressive”.
Simple. AI mechanism is employed to relieve journalists – not to complicate their work.
Obviously, creating AI-based solutions for newsrooms is fun (I run a design company; I know what I’m saying). We’ve designed nearly 40 AI-powered concepts. Factiverse developed a fact-checking tool for newsrooms (one that really works). Smartocto has great newsroom analytics software with AI features. However, all of these solutions are here to serve specific needs. If you own a data journalism title specialising in debunking stereotypes, you might want to implement AI-based fact-checking tools. If you want to democratise data in a newsroom, you might deploy AI algorithms to help you. Sometimes, though, it’s enough to simplify the data dashboards so everyone can understand them, as Mediahuis did.
Newsrooms don’t need innovation for innovation’s sake. They need a solid infrastructure and user-friendly interfaces that do not scare off journalists, even those unfamiliar with advanced technologies.
This might require answering a question: “Should I invest in paying off the technological debt and adapt to the new possibilities or stick with traditional methods?”.
The pioneers will work on revolutionary solutions, while others will keep saying that “it’s not for them” and that “it’s not the right time”. And that’s fine. It’s not artificial intelligence that will “take your business to the next level”. It’s the solid business strategy developed at the intersection of your most pressing needs and the critical evaluation of your existing publishing software.
One more thing. Some newsrooms fear getting “burned” with new solutions, especially when outside vendors offer them a new breakthrough solution. My answer is to look at the existing publishing software first: UX architecture, stability, technical features, and team capabilities, and consult with those who have been in the industry for years (there are many opportunities for partnerships with universities, think tanks, start-ups, and tech companies), and only then decide if you are ready for a big change, or not right away. If you do decide to make a change, be sure that the road will be long and bumpy – and AI is by no means a shortcut.
Autentika is one of Europe’s premier newsroom consultancies, combining profound technological expertise with advanced editorial insights. With an 18-year journey as a consulting and delivery team, it emerged as a digital transformation partner for newsrooms, leveraging its extensive experience in various industries and a pivotal collaboration with one of the biggest media tech holdings in the CEE region, Wirtualna Polska. Through their collaboration, Autentika redefined news consumption by revamping WP’s back-office system, developing a cutting-edge enterprise-wide content editing application, and streamlining a myriad of editorial tools.
“The Newsroom of Tomorrow” initiative stems from engaging with industry leaders, journalists, and AI visionaries and contributes to the ongoing dialogue about the future shape of media.