Democratising Artificial Intelligence: Bringing balance back to reporting

07.02.2020 · By Camilla Allen

The world of publishing has changed significantly in the last ten years. There’s been the rise of digital publishing and a proliferation of clickbait churned out by larger publishers for ad revenue. Also, local newspapers have dramatically slashed headcounts. British news industry magazine Press Gazette reports a net loss of 245 local news titles from 2005 to 2018.

The hard-hitting reality

The diversity of voices has dwindled with the monopolisation of reporting as small to medium-sized publishers fold. This has left communities fighting for local journalism. An estimated 58% of the country is now served by no regional newspaper.

The editor of Barrow Herald in Cumbria reflects on this issue. In a conversation with The Guardian, he says: “Nothing interests a man more than the news of his own neighbourhood. We continue our endeavours to cram our sheet full of facts – facts possessing as much local interest as possible.”

New technology has the power to either exacerbate or shrink the divide in challenging times. In fact, a new survey from management consultancy Gould Finch finds that artificial intelligence is set to become the “essential key to success for the publishing industry,” as claimed by managing director Colin Lovrinovic.

Charlie Beckett, founding director of international journalism institute Polis, backed this view in 2019. “If we value journalism as a social good,” he said in a pioneering report on artificial intelligence by Polis at LSE, “then we have a window of perhaps 2-5 years, when news organisations must get across this technology.”

However, for smaller publishers, it can be difficult to adopt cutting-edge editorial workflow tools for journalists. But the need to keep up with larger players is real. Indeed, Reuters Institute for Journalism found that over half of news publishers are prioritising AI initiatives. However, “smaller publishers worry that they could be left behind due to the complexity, expense, and scarcity of skills.”

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Restoring balance

As AI becomes more central to the discovery, production and distribution of news and information, a key question is the role of traditional and resource-strapped newsrooms in that ecosystem. Will they have the tools to compete? Will the provide artisanal content as feedstock for larger organisations to use in AIdriven news engines? What parts of the news ecosystem will remain the domain of newsrooms?Polis at LSE report, “New powers, new responsibilities: A global survey of journalism and artificial intelligence”

Smaller publishers can struggle to implement new technology without access to data scientists, IT resources and AI models. Yet, larger companies have an advantage. They can make the most of deep pockets, a wealth of resources and ability to harness the power of natural language processing to get ahead of the game.

But the best journalism relies on an eclectic range of voices covering stories on different levels. This offers a well-rounded view of events. Thus, open access to beneficial tools is essential in leveling the playing field and democratising AI.

New initiatives

The Google News Initiative launched in 2018. It aims to “elevate and strengthen quality journalism, evolve business models to drive sustainable growth, and empower news organizations through technological innovation.”

Google has now partnered with Automattic and WordPress. It is investing $1.2 million in creating a publishing system called Newspack. The advanced open-source publishing and revenue-generating platform is aimed at local small to medium-sized news organisations and offers a flexible, fast and affordable content management system (CMS) that addresses common pain points such as speed, security, member management, subscriptions, advertising and great content publishing.

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Dubbed “an opinionated CMS” by Google, the hope is that Newspack will improve local news sustainability by solving common problems for publishers, all the while, at a low cost.

Google has also teamed up with Norwich-based newspaper publisher Archant, established in 1845. The American tech company will channel several million pounds into it expanding its operations in three British locations over three years. This will improve the newspaper’s relationship with local communities, delivering them the news they care about in a digital age.

Here at LOYAL AI we are excited to be developing a range of affordable research and productivity assistant for all journalists. We hope to support journalism at every level, enabling every size of publication to strengthen its core business with access to the most cutting-edge technology.

See what our suite of editorial research assistants can do for you.

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