Felix Elele looks at ‘The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Challenges of Modern Newsrooms: Implications for Nigerian Journalists’:
The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is one of the outcomes of the digital disruptions of this era.
The disruptive effects of sundry technological innovations such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain have changed all facets of human endeavour and the creative industry is not an exception.
The impact of these disruptive technologies on the creative industry is an area of growing interest to media practitioners. One segment of the creative economy that has integrated AI into its creation process is journalism.
It serves as a model of how technology could be applied to various forms of creative expression in the future.
It is no more news that the advent of the internet has revolutionised the way every facet of life operates globally including the practice of journalism.
Accordingly, media organisations are strategizing on how to navigate the threats posed by the emergence of AI and reposition themselves to take advantage of the opportunities. It is inherent that with the help of AI programs, the art of storytelling is becoming more and more scientific.
Hadi Rashedi, Ku Leaven and Hossen Mosalapoor in their paper titled “Exploring the future of modern journalism with artificial intelligence”, stated that,
AI software developers are using their extensive knowledge of linguistics and natural language to explore narrative and turn data analytics insights from data silos into digestible narratives in seconds.
This has ushered a new era and paradigm shift in journalism practice known as Robotic Journalism They further posited that Robotic Journalism is based on two pillars: computer software that automatically extracts new knowledge from huge data silos and algorithms that automatically convert this knowledge and insights into readable stories without human intervention.
In this new era, commercial firms have AI algorithms that write thousands of journalistic reports without humans. For obvious economic and business strategy reasons, the adoption of robot journalism is rapidly growing and will be a disruptor in the journalism practice, as it is known today.
Recent developments have shown that efficient new robot journalists will challenge traditional journalists. Aside from significant personnel cost reductions, these robot journalists are factual, are never fatigued, and are free of bias if programmed objectively.
Christoph Trattner and his team in an article titled “Responsible media technology and AI: challenges and research directions” published in 2021 have argued that new competition in the media industry is an undeniable fact and an inevitable effect of the disruptive effects of digitalisation and new economic models.
They argue that traditional media outlets and their long-standing editorial practices are losing ground to up-and-coming firms that have successfully filled a niche in the media market by anticipating and targeting specific consumer demands.
For instance, fnn.no has become Norway’s primary classified ads platform, a sector previously dominated by traditional media; Twitter has become a major debate platform, bypassing traditional media; Facebook appears to provide far more insight into people’s lives than the personals sections of newspapers ever did; and Netflix, HBO, Twitch, TikTok, and YouTube challenge the commercial and public broadcasters’ positions. Facebook aggregates material and services more efficiently than the media due to its use of user-curated content and predictive content personalization. These enormous platforms now distribute content, while traditional media companies have evolved into content providers for these platforms, similar to anyone with a smartphone.
The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, Forbes, and ProPublica have initiated the automation of news content. Though the technology is still in its infancy on the market, automated journalism has made its way into newsrooms and is likely to remain.
The use of AI in journalism has provided opportunities to automate reporting and has helped to rapidly expand coverage; the Associated Press was able to expand the number of companies it reported. It also provides faster insights and the ability to spontaneously provide real-time data for the outlines of a story in seconds, unlike human reporters. In addition, it can reduce the human element in the content-creation process.
In his research on the subject, “Guide to Automated Journalism”, Andreas Graefe stated that the increasing availability of structured data and news organisations’ desire to both reduce costs and increase the quantity of news are some of the primary drivers of automated journalism.
This is because algorithms can generate news more quickly, on a larger scale, and potentially with fewer errors than human journalists. It can use the same data to tell stories in multiple languages and from various perspectives, thus tailoring them to the preferences of each individual reader.
Equally, they have the capacity to generate news on demand by generating stories in response to users’ data-related queries. On the other hand, he argued that the disadvantage of algorithms is that they rely on data and assumptions, both of which are susceptible to bias and error.
As a result, algorithms may generate unanticipated, unintended, and erroneous results. They are unable to pose questions, explain novel phenomena, or establish causality, limiting their capacity to observe society and perform journalistic duties such as orientation and opinion formation.
In looking at the pros and cons, some journalists may see the new robot journalists as a serious threat to their career and means of livelihood, while some forward-thinking journalists will view this potential threat to journalism as a tool for more efficient delivery.
For proactive practitioners, the robot journalists will free them from engaging in sometimes dangerous and costly investigations. The bot will also provide them with an automated draft of a story, which they will then revise and enhance with their in-depth analysis, perspectives, and storytelling skills.
With advancements in micro-data technology, it will be challenging for human journalists to compete in this ecosystem of automatic data collection and writing without advancing their skill set. In the nearest future, there is the possibility that career professions in the media will experience a paradigm shift.
It is envisaged that Data managers and AI software engineers may become key players in the journalism profession as employees of media organizations and potential newsroom leaders in the emerging media practice.
Notwithstanding the above, human journalists still have important roles and competitive advantages over robot journalists – but they must fully understand those limitations and retool their skills, competencies and abilities to reposition their mode of operation to take advantage of the opportunities.
Andreas Graefe has argued that Journalists whose work consists of covering mundane themes may be displaced by automated journalism, but the advent of news-generating algorithms may also lead to the creation of new employment opportunities. For instance, a robot journalist cannot be a watchdog over democracy and human rights.
Consequently, there is a likelihood of collaboration and integration of human and automated journalism to form a man-machine alliance. It is in the best interest of journalists to hone their skills and develop new ones in areas such as in-depth analysis, interviewing, and investigative reporting, which algorithms cannot execute. It is therefore pertinent that human journalists should understand and embrace the new rules of the game.
Going forward, media organisations and practitioners in developing countries and particularly in Nigeria must begin to change their perspective and espouse these new realities if they must remain relevant in the emerging media space.
Otherwise, the mega and evolving media practice propelled by AI will lead to the extinction of some media practitioners and operators in line with Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The time to act is now as AI has the capacity to transform the digital space in ways that seem unimaginable.
Regarding Nigeria journalism practice in the age of robot journalism, Desmond Onyemechi Okocha and Roxie Ojoma Ola-Akuma stated in their study “Investigating Robot Journalism, National Security and the Future of Military-Media Relations in Nigeria” that media practitioners are still unfamiliar with the concept of robot journalism technology.
They urged media organizations and journalists to acquire the skills necessary to implement and adapt to global strategies for gathering, packaging, and disseminating news and other pertinent information to the public.
In addition, journalists must make editorial and ethical decisions, which could pave the way for the adoption of automated journalism, as robots lack emotions and can only implement pre-programmed ethics. In addition, media organizations should be adaptable and train their employees in online journalism, while the government should facilitate the continuous flow of information. On the other hand, Nigerian training institutions should include robot journalism and military news coverage in their curriculum.