This week, I read with keen interest David Caswell’s long article on AI and Journalism: What’s Next, recently published on the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s website.
Caswell, a well-known researcher on AI in news addresses several key issues on the impact of generative AI in the media ecosystem, including how the organisational structures of media companies will need to change to adapt to this new and fascinating era of AI. Three things stood out for me with regards to an AI-powered media organisation; the impact of AI on newsroom jobs, the decentralisation of technology and skills and talent.
For a while now, the biggest concern around AI in the newsroom is the possibility of AI replacing journalists and editors who have taken years to perfect their craft of news gathering and editing. With generative AI technologies such as ChatGPT, we have seen newsrooms experimenting with articles written and edited by ChatGPT.
It is therefore not farfetched for journalists and editors to be worried about the impact of AI on their jobs and the fact that they would soon be ‘replaced by machines’. Experts like Caswell agree that while many roles may be replaced by AI, many more jobs and tasks will appear because of this new technology, which might present new opportunities for journalists and editors.
The second thing that stood out for me with regards to organisations and AI is the decentralisation of technology, resulting in what Caswell calls “federalised organisations’. This means that AI and other technologies will move from being a preserve of one small team to a coordinated, organisation-wide phenomenon with small teams working independently of each other for the benefit of the audience. This is certainly a significant shift from the current newsroom operation, which also calls for culture change with regards to how newsrooms of the future will operate. These smaller ‘atomic teams’ will be able to work better and faster, making decisions in a much nimble manner but in sync with the larger organisational goals.
Last but not least, is the idea of skill and talent. One would think that, in the age of AI driven newsrooms, the most important skill would be a technology-based skill like coding or a deep understanding of AI. While that might work, experts are now saying that foundational skills such as editorial judgement will likely be the most valued skill for the AI-powered newsroom.
The ability to understand the needs of an audience and determine the right stories for the audience while verifying the news- typical editorial hard work- will indeed stand the test of time even with the uncertainty of AI and its capabilities, at least according to what experts are projecting for now.
No matter how much research on AI and newsrooms is done, nobody can truly and precisely predict its impact on journalism. The important thing to remember is that news organisations should remain agile and nimble enough to roll with the punches of AI by continually providing leadership on AI matters and keeping an open mind to the surprises of technology.
Dr Chege is a media and technology researcher