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AI and news. Doing the churn while you do the journ.

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

As experts predict a huge role for AI in the media in the not too distant future, can managers find a way to maximise its potential alongside well-staffed newsrooms.

At my very first radio station we had a presenter called Twinkle. 'She' was Star FM's overnight host. An 'android'. Little did I know back then, that what I thought was tacky and awful, was actually 30 years ahead of the game. Now radio bosses are gearing up for the arrival of AI hosts and newsreaders. Whilst Twinkle was actually voiced by a human, of course (and would even attend local events in a space age outfit), the 'advances' talked about right now, have far greater potential impact on radio and newsrooms.

At Radiodays Europe the conference was addressed by Daniel Anstandig, CEO and Co-Founder of Futuri Media. The company is behind the new AI-driven RadioGPT, which has been sold to dozens of stations already. However, he told delegates “RadioGPT is here to expand the super power of radio, not replace jobs”. Really? I can absolutely see a world where jobs previously done by humans will be done with AI. Especially in media. And as we know from the development of technology in media, it often means fewer staff doing more things. It never means more staff.

I can also see the benefit of AI in a newsroom. Take the job as a radio newsreader. They do a number of roles in one. You have to write, make editorial decisions, edit and produce and then broadcast well. I have met very few newsreaders and broadcast journalists excellent at all of those. There is almost always a weakness. To be honest, there are also many broadcast journalists not very good at their job. Just because you want to do a job doesn't mean you will be good at it. There are those that copy and paste from the respective wire feeds and don't understand the news they are presenting. There are more of these than you imagine.

AI could do a better job than many people I have worked with or managed. But you do need a human journalist to understand key nuances and elements within the role. So having the technology alongside a human could well make things better for the journalists and, importantly, the audience. It is clear though, that what we want AI to do is a little muddy.

Futuri has talked about AI finding news content from the internet and social media and collating it. Isn't that stealing? Most newsrooms rely on a paid wire service, not pinched articles from other platforms. How the programs work and where the information is collated from needs clarifying and the AI needs to integrate into current news systems. If that happens, the churn experienced by many 'journalists' in today's newsrooms could be left to the computers. The human could then concentrate on the 'journ'; being a journalist and shaping the content into something an audience enjoys and understands. Already there are platforms getting AI to do basic content like, people profiles and timeline articles. What's still needed in these cases is fact checking by a human, who can also shape the content into something more organic to read.

In radio the same will happen. And if you think this is all a long way off, you would be misguided. TV stations in China started using AI newsreaders in 2018, radio equivalents already exist and are only likely to become more common. Automated travel, weather and listings content could soon be heard on radio stations in the UK. The hope is that news keeps that human conduit. A journalist being given more time to shape and produce bulletins or packages that sound great. I often hear bad edits and certainly hear a lot of bad scripts on radio bulletins, so freeing people up to improve that makes perfect sense. Getting the AI to dovetail in the right way is key.

Of course, the cynics amongst us will question whether media bosses won't just see the cost benefits and go with the more simple solution. Axing staff. After I left Star FM in 1997, the sport show I had been doing was proudly taken over by one of my closest colleagues. Months later he messaged to say the show had been axed and Twinkle was taking over Saturday afternoons. He said "I am the first presenter to be replaced by an android!". We know now, that he most certainly won't be the last!


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