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Practical advice for putting AI to work in the newsroom

January 17, 2018 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Journalists today are using Artificial intelligence (AI) in newsroom as part of their daily reporting process. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s research report, Artificial Intelligence: Practice and Implications for Journalism, discusses new AI developments and the impact on news organizations.

Today, more and more resources are available digitally. The days of manually searching for data in basement archives are long gone. However, given all of the digital resources available, the process requires significant human effort. AI and automated journalistic processes can help ease that burden.

BuzzFeed’s BuzzBot allows the collection of  information from on-the-ground new sources.
The Tow Center and Brown Institute have identified three major journalistic AI achievements to date:
  1. Finding needles in haystacks: AI can find and fact-check faster than the human eye.
  2. Identifying trends: AI can parse through data, again faster than humans, and group findings into categories to identify trends.
  3. Examining an application of AI or computation as the subject of the story itself: Since AI algorithms are built by humans, AI can also proof itself for unintentional bias in its applications and outputs.

Further, there are several new successful applications of AI in newsrooms. One is Wibbitz, a resource used by USA Today to create short videos. Others include News Tracer, an algorithmic prediction tool that helps Reuters journalists gauge the integrity of a tweet and BuzzBot, software from BuzzFeed, which allows the collection of  information from on-the-ground new sources. Still, journalists must be careful to evaluate the credibility of AI data, its sources and understand how the algorithms work.

Key steps to integrating AI in the newsroom:
  • Train editors and reporters to incorporate AI as a new resource for storytelling.
  • Develop and promote the use of AI guidelines regarding the ethical use of data. Further, public disclosure of methodology is a must especially in terms of editorial values and standards.
  • Small operations for which AI is too expensive should consider partnerships with academic institutions.
  • Reporters and journalists should continue to be transparent about AI usage in a report or how it’s used in the production of a story.

According to The Tow Center and Brown Institute, journalists have two main responsibilities. First, they  need to present the information to the reader in a clear and concise manner. And second, they need to explain its authenticity. This includes the practice of AI, including full disclosure of details and formulas for its algorithms. Importantly, as AI helps facilitates the newsroom, journalists need to question and critique the process and the information received.

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