News bosses grapple with ethical and business conundrum of AI

A News Corp spokesperson insisted each word of the several thousand weekly stories is overseen by a human, adding that ChatGPT or other similar technologies aren’t used in the creation of content.

News Corp’s hyperlocal news, brought to you by AI.

News Corp’s hyperlocal news, brought to you by AI.

Another media business dabbling in AI is American publishing group Gannett, which has rolled out an AI tool used to write match reports of high school sport matches.

CNN reported that the move attracted significant social media attention, with readers highlighting a slew of errors, a lack of key details, and complaining the stories generally read as if they had been written by a computer. A Crikey analysis of News Corp’s Data Local content had similar findings.

Other publishers have been more cautious with their approach to AI, but are still exploring the technology’s potential.

Nine, the owner of this masthead, said generative AI “cannot replace the integrity and authenticity of the journalism across its newsrooms, or the journalists who are committed to breaking, reporting and analysing the news in an impartial and accurate way”.

But this doesn’t rule out its use in other points of the news production cycle. For example, a recent company-wide hackathon at Nine focused entirely on AI innovation gave the people’s choice award to a proposal for Good Food, in which an AI program could generate recipes based on a photograph of a reader’s pantry.

Nine also uses AI technology to produce highlights and mini packages of sports matches for broadcast across its platforms.

For smaller media businesses, CEO of Private Media, Crikey’s publisher, Will Hayward says AI has a huge opportunity to improve the entire news ecosystem, “hoovering up all the unoriginal reporting and regurgitated non journalism that so many mainstream outlets provide”.

The result, he says, will reward original news and information delivered by publishers direct to readers.

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Some in the industry think AI is still far from its future potential.

Lisa Davies, CEO of Australian Associated Press, recalls a memorable quote she heard at a conference this year: “AI is like a cadet journalist. It’s enthusiastic and prone to mistakes, but one day it’ll be better than you.”

AAP has spent two years building back up the local wire service, while the market has new entries to contend with, such as ex-Nine publishing boss Chris Janz’s Capital Brief.

A recent deal between the pair, according to an internal note seen by this masthead, sees two AAP reporters produce “a dozen or more briefings” per day for Capital Brief’s exclusive use, drawing only from public sourced material.

While you might think a dozen daily briefings, compiled from publicly sourced material is a task made for AI, Davies says using the technology isn’t on AAP’s radar – for now, at least.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus hosted an industry roundtable to discuss the implications of AI.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus hosted an industry roundtable to discuss the implications of AI.Credit: Justin McManus

“AAP takes seriously its role as the yardstick for trusted, objective news in the Australian industry, so will be exploring developments in AI cautiously and responsibly,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Guardian, seen as another leader in using technology in an innovative way in its journalism, published a list of guiding principles for the use of generative AI products in May, noting that while exciting, the tools are “currently unreliable”.

“We will seek to use GenAI tools editorially only where it contributes to the creation and distribution of original journalism,” editor-in-chief Katharine Viner and global CEO, Anna Bateson wrote.

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They pointed with examples such as using AI to interrogate large data sets; create ideas for marketing campaigns; or make time-consuming business processes more efficient.

As the industry grapples with the AI conundrum, the government is consulting about the threats posed to copyright law from tech giants such as Google and OpenAI scraping the internet to train AI engines.

An industry roundtable hosted by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus met last week to discuss the implications of AI, including a potential compensation model, but multiple attendees said there was little progress made in ironing out a solution.

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