During the session, ‘AI to machine learning: The automation of news’ at Media Rumble 3, panelists including Kavya Sukumar, developer at Hearken, Kawaljit Singh Bedi, chief technology and product officer at NDTV Group, Rahul Kapoor, head of Large Partnerships at Google India, Rajat Nigam, chief technology officer at Network 18 Media, and Rashmi Mittal, vice president of Engineering at Quintype, discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help in delivering information in an unbiased manner and how is it influencing editorial (newsgathering and processing) behavior.
The conversation began by stating that AI could actually make life easier for editorial teams by eliminating some of the toxicity from the digital atmosphere in the form of hurtful comments from haters or bullies. Kapoor suggested that Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas (a subsidiary of Alphabet), provides technological solutions to cyber attacks. Jigsaw acts as a moderator between humans on a website and filters offensive comments that are automatically rejected by the software, reducing the burden on the edit team to go through each comment. However, it was pointed out that the auto-moderation of content using AI could become an enemy to freedom of speech. If left unchecked or without human interference, the software may obstruct effective communication.
As Sukumar rightly put it, misinformation is one of the biggest current challenges after the environmental change. Elaborating on the difference between misinformation and disinformation, she said that misinformation is the wrong interpretation of information while disinformation means spreading false information intentionally. Entities such as Google and Facebook are purveyors of misinformation and disinformation.
Sukumar added that malinformation has also cropped up in newsrooms – a piece of information that is true in itself but is intentionally used in the wrong context to elicit a certain kind of response from the audience. The Guardian has taken a step in this direction by flagging its pictures and videos with the date of first publishing to prevent this type of misuse or malinformation. She explained that with technology advancing at an alarming pace, there is a need for editorial technologists, a new species of journalists. An editorial technologist well versed with the knowledge of the digital space can moderate AI in newsrooms.
Nigam argued that while technology has its advantages, it has led to role reversal in terms of news consumption. Earlier, the audience would scrounge for news and quality content but with the arrival of the internet and AI, information is spoon-fed to the audience by AI. While automation helps with the efficiency and productivity of content, it cannot produce content for journalists; it still relies on newsrooms. Modern newsrooms rely on technology to produce excessive content to stay ahead of their competitors; and their content is then disseminated by Google and Facebook, while starving mainstream media.
From enabler to driver
Technology is becoming something other than it was meant to be. Instead of enabling journalists and publishers with wider reach and effectiveness, it is tending to drive (and bias) their content. There is a need to pause and to enhance editorial skills. While technology can supplement content creators, it should not be the sole source of content, according to Nigam.
The panelists shifted to the digital revenue model. In an advertisement-driven world, the content that attracts the most clicks is deemed successful. Engaging content drives traffic which in turn drives revenue. This practice of writing for the largest audience is compromising journalistic integrity. Reporters would rather join the dark forces of the internet, and write pieces that are mere clickbait than writing about issues that actually matter. For this reason and more, editors, who understand the content, need to assume the final authority over the kind of content that is to be produced online and not be pushed around by what the internet demands.
Furthermore, the speakers agreed that SEO and other such tools for ranking and advertising are only a means to improve a website’s reach online since most people will discover the content through social media or Google ads. However, hiring journalists whose knowledge is limited to these ‘buzzwords’ of the internet is not the solution to be successful. They need to have editorial skills to act as human moderators when AI goes overboard.
Media is slow to adapt to the changing trends in technology. As of now, newsrooms are merely reacting to these changes and are not ready to critically address them. Technology can merely identify bias and supplement newsrooms but it is up to the editorial team to leverage it to a meaningful advantage.