As local newsrooms and major media outlets across the nation wrestle with what to do with artificial intelligence, the Associated Press is looking at ways to incorporate the technology into its workflow.
As part of this effort, the international news cooperative surveyed almost 200 newsrooms nationwide, including Puerto Rico and Guam, for AI readiness.
“We know that national and international newsrooms have plenty of money, have plenty of people to experiment with,” said Aimee Rinehart, program manager for the AP’s Local News AI initiative. “But we wanted to know what was happening at the local level.”
The AP uses generative AI for various tasks. These include sending alerts about breaking news, writing short summaries, organizing content and transcribing audio.
Reinhart said generative AI’s incorporation into workflows aims to aid reporters through the automation of simple tasks.
“There’s a reporter we met in South Carolina, who covers five school boards, and two of those boards meet at the same time,” Rinehart said. “How’s he going to cover that?”
Reinhart said smaller local newsrooms are in a prime position now to experiment with new technologies, having fewer people weighing in. She said it often boils down to getting newsroom management to agree.
“There’s a lot of emotions tied up with technology,” Rinehart said. “Ironically, you would think that it’s just technology, everybody would embrace it, but that’s not true. Many newsrooms are worried that their technology stack is already so wobbly that adding one more thing will make it all fall over.”
Rinehart also said fact-checking and sourcing are concerns to consider due to a lack of transparency in training data used by models like OpenAI’s GPT-3 and GPT-4.
“Don’t use ChatGPT to create articles. It will hallucinate. It’s not a reporter. It’s really great once you’re done with your report, to put it into the system and say, ‘Give me two headlines,'” Rinehart said.
Rinehart said that when she talks to her local news cohort, many of them say a human has to be in the loop at the final stage. “I like the 80/20 rule where AI can take you 80% of the way and 20% is (humans) reviewing and making sure to publish.”
The survey was part of an initiative that began in fall 2021. The survey showed that these newsrooms do not regularly use AI in newsgathering and few have tried AI tools. However, most indicated that they’d be willing to use automation and AI if it helped to reduce workloads.
Rinehart, who began working in digital for The New York Times in 1998, sees parallels between how newsrooms perceived the internet and how they now view AI.
“I’ve been here before and this is a thing,” Rinehart said. ”And it’s a thing because you’re resisting it and you’re resisting it with all the same language you resisted the internet before.”
In the talks of bringing AI to local newsrooms, she was met with similar hesitations.
“(Local newsrooms) were still frustrated about social media and how to get their articles read online,” Rinehart said. “Talking to them about AI, they were like, we’re not interested right now. I think if we surveyed them now, there’d be very different responses.”