Can artificial intelligence help journalists?
Lindsay Grace, an associate professor in the School of Communication, and a team of academic colleagues have developed an AI-generated tip sheet that can help news outlets by sifting through information and providing leads to pursue.
For many journalists, the idea of sharing space with artificial intelligence is threatening. As it stands, the news industry is in steep decline, with US newsroom employment down 26% since 2008, according to the Pew Research Center.
A combination of factors contributed to this decline, but new technologies are also fueling the decline. The rise of the Internet and social media is at the top of the list.
Lindsay Grace, Knight Professor of Interactive Media and associate professor at the University of Miami School of Communication, believes that technology and specifically artificial intelligence can help journalists today, especially in an age where they face dwindling resources.
“I think we should look at the AI industry like we look at the internet,” he said. “It’s a way to extend a journalist’s reach and effectiveness in the work they do.”
Just as visiting various websites can make searching the web easier, AI can improve the reporting process, Grace said.
Grace and a team of scholars from several universities published an article titled “Exploring Reporter-Desired Features for an AI-Generated Legislative News Tip Sheet” which appeared in the April 2022 research journal of the International Journalism Symposium in line. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded their project.
The team developed a tip sheet that, powered by AI, can help news outlets sift through information generated from state legislature meetings. The system gleans interesting news nuggets and provides background data on events to aid journalists in their newsgathering.
The system generates “recipe cards” with news information gathered from a wide range of websites that provide context and perspective that would take time for a reporter to do on their own, Grace said. .
“We recognize that it is extremely expensive to keep a reporter tuned into every state-level event,” he said. “Instead, we have these AI systems as sort of sensors to do this work for them.”
So far, the team has systems in place for states that have sun laws and therefore provide open access to state legislatures and meetings. These are California, Florida, Texas and New York.
Grace believes the future of journalism is for journalists to work hand-in-hand with computer scientists to come up with ideas to improve and facilitate their work.
To begin their research, Grace and her team sent out surveys to 10,000 news industry professionals and received 193 responses. While 98% said it would be important to cover policies and decisions taking place in state legislatures, only 37% said they had the resources to do so.
“We want to fill that gap,” Grace said.
The system is helpful in many ways, Grace said. It not only highlights actions by members of the state legislature that might be newsworthy, but provides full transcripts and even videos of the meetings.
“So if the AI system tells a reporter that there was tension between two participants, the reporter can go back and see the conversation,” Grace said. AI can also aggregate data and figures that would take a journalist hours to gather.
“For example, it would take a while to do the math if someone votes contrary to their usual voting pattern,” Grace said. “What we’re doing is just aggregating that person’s voting history, and we’re giving those stats to reporters.”
But can AI go beyond that and actually generate stories for newspapers and other news outlets?
Grace said a few news outlets use AI to generate grassroots stories, mostly reports of sports scores, real estate deals, or weather stories.
“Some of these stories are about the more mundane activities, like how the high school baseball team did last night,” he said. “They’re easy to process and the numbers are built into a template.”
In the future, Grace and her team hope to develop algorithms that will allow AI to do the kind of basic reporting work in journalism needed to create more complex narratives.
But humans shouldn’t be afraid of AI. “The algorithm is only as good as the human inputting the information,” Grace pointed out.
Other academic members of the team who worked on the project were: Patrick Howe, associate president and associate professor of journalism at California Polytechnic State University; Foaad Khosmood, Forbes Professor of Computer Engineering at California Polytechnic State University; and Christina Robertson, executive director of the San Luis Coastal Educational Foundation.