There is huge potential in AI for journalism 


Author: Žikica Stevanović 

“A lot of people are working very hard on artificial intelligence (in journalism) and innovating, there is huge potential but also (there are) huge problems in terms of adapting to this new technology”, professor at London School of Economics that focuses on AI, Charlie Backett, said on the panel ‘How are AI-based technologies used in newsrooms? Practical cases and opportunities’.


The panel was part of the High-Level Conference on ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism – Can AI take over the fourth estate?’ organised in the context of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.


Three years ago Backett did a survey with the Polis, a journalism think-tank at the LSE, to find out what big news organisations around the world are doing with AI.


“One of the big lessons was that people needed more information so we created some online training courses to introduce journalists to the idea of AI. We brought together journalists and technology and researchers at the university to work on specific challenges like gender bias”, he said.


Beckett said that the survey raised interesting questions about economics, editorial issues and ethical issues that surround AI in journalism context.


Research editor and Latin American coordinator at International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Emilia Díaz-Struck said that the latest ICIJ investigation FinCEN Files involved more than 400 journalists in 88 countries and the AI and machine learning was used.


“When we involved AI and machine learning in our project we wanted journalists who worked on investigation to benefit from technology even if they are not data-oriented people”, she said.


“Many of our projects involve millions of records and the data we obtain increases. ‘Paradise Papers’ involved 13,4 million records. So technology has helped us to be more efficient”, she said and added that ICIJ, for example, used AI to trace illicit money flows.


CEO at Applied XL and author of ‘Newsmakers: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism’ Francesco Marconi said that he used AI while working at Associated Press to automate text in key areas such as financial, sports, economics and the results were “dramatic in the positive way”.


“We went from covering 300 companies with human writers to covering 4.000 companies and this was thanks to the help of smart machines”, he stressed.


Marconi added that this kind of projects allow increased coverage in the areas where there are not a lot of new sources so the error rate of such stories goes down.


He stressed that the challenge in this field are a big innovation and knowledge gap between the large organisations and the small local newsrooms.


“It is important to promote knowledge because in the long term if we don't address this gap, the difference between large newsrooms, that become extremely efficient with the use of AI, will be exponential in comparison with small newsrooms”, he assessed.