News organisations are bracing for serious disruptions in consequence of the increasing influence of artificial intelligence (AI) – each on the way in which that they work and the way in which their audiences eat news. As a part of our latest journalism trends report, my colleagues and I on the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that lower than half (47%) of 314 editors, CEOs and other digital leaders from greater than 50 countries say they’re confident about journalism’s prospects in 2024.

The report details a troublesome period for the news industry over several years. A decline in internet advertising, slowing growth in subscriber numbers and rapidly declining referrals from social media have fed into dramatic falls in revenue.

Industry data shows that Facebook referrals alone fell by 48% prior to now 12 months, and lots of fear that search traffic will likely be next. Google and Microsoft, amongst other tech giants, are expected to roll out AI-driven, chat-based interfaces which have been trained on publisher content – mostly, or so the publisher of the New York Times alleges, without their permission.

But it isn’t just web search. We are also seeing a proliferation of conversational AI assistants built into computers, mobile phones and even cars that can change the way in which we discover and eat content of every kind. Queries in regards to the news are increasingly answered directly by the AI interface. Links to sources of the news on publisher web sites, meanwhile, disappear into the background. As a result, far fewer audience eyeballs will find their option to each publisher’s site.

Against that background, it isn’t surprising to seek out that some publishers similar to AP and Axel Springer have already done deals with AI corporations. The New York Times, meanwhile, is taking legal motion over what it says was the unauthorised use of published work to coach AI technologies.

Many publishers hope that this time round, the end result will profit publishers of original and high-quality news and knowledge. “There is a possibility for the industry to work with AI players to design a symbiotic ecosystem and that’s a possibility we must not squander,” says the chief operating officer of a number one UK news provider, who wishes to stay anonymous.

Most publishers in our survey, nonetheless should not optimistic that this recent phase of negotiations will work out well. More than one-third (35%) of respondents felt that only a number of big media corporations would profit, while around half (48%) predicted that ultimately there could be little money available for any publisher.

Publishers should not confident about funding from big AI corporations

There may be very little industry optimism that news publishers can do a favourable take care of AI corporations.
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, Author provided (no reuse)

Industry concerns should not nearly money. More than two-thirds (70%) of respondents think that widespread availability of generative AI could reduce trust within the news. “The explosion of crap content definitely has the potential to shake the trust,” says Christoph Zimmer, chief product officer at German news company Der Spiegel.

Zimmer highlights concerns in regards to the use of deep fakes and other synthetic media, at the same time as he hopes that the widespread availability of such second-rate content could also “allow [trusted] news media to distinguish ourselves more clearly”.

Trying to adapt

While the risks around business models, platforms and trust have to be managed, publishers know there are also significant opportunities to make their newsrooms more efficient. In our survey, we found the vast majority of publishers (56%) are specializing in back-end automation this 12 months – using AI to assist with copyediting, metadata creation and translation – with the subsequent commonest AI-related aim being identifying higher ways to recommend content (37%).

“The most compelling user case for AI in newsrooms is within the automation of routine tasks,” argues Ed Roussel, head of digital at The Times and Sunday Times. “We don’t imagine that AI is an alternative to reporting stories, which is able to proceed to be done by journalists.”

Which newsroom uses of AI will likely be most vital in 2024?

Graph showing publishers' sentiment about fuiding from big AI companies.
Publishers imagine AI has its uses, but must not replace original content.
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, Author provided (no reuse)

This concentrate on back-end automation is partly because news executives recognise the reputational risks in using AI for content. But that won’t stop others pushing ahead. Nordic publishers are routinely adding AI written summaries to their stories, while one German newspaper uses an AI robot to put in writing 5% of its articles, albeit with human oversight.

NewsGPT is the world’s first 24-hour TV news station created entirely by AI, and, as a consequence of launch this 12 months, guarantees a personalised news channel that may speak in any language.

Rapid developments in AI are disrupting many industries, not only journalism, but news executives know they will’t just bury their heads within the sand. Rather than using AI to create volume, forward-thinking news organisations needs to be trying to construct unique content and experiences that may’t be easily replicated by AI – think curating live news, deep evaluation, and human experiences that construct connection between audiences and the news provider.

But they’ll also need to make use of AI technologies to make their businesses more efficient, in addition to more relevant for audiences, in an era when many are turning away from the news.

The impact of AI on the availability of online content generally is harder to predict. Much will depend upon emerging public attitudes to the technology, but additionally on how responsibly the platforms that share this content behave. Equally vital is the end result of the legal cases around mental property, which could open up – or severely restrict – the way in which news content will be used for training AI models without proper compensation.

We’re still on the early stages of the AI revolution but it is a 12 months wherein lots of the foundations and approaches are prone to be set. Against that background, journalists and news organisations have to proactively rethink their role and purpose with some urgency.

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