The coming of AI

Last weekend a group of us attended the New York Press Association 2024 conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, where editors, publishers, reporters, and advertising sales people gathered to take the collective pulse of the news industry and learn from each other. LJMN Media, Inc., the new nonprofit umbrella for The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News, was right at home with the hundreds of other organizations that wanted to scope out what lies ahead for our industry.

We’ve all heard the stories about the troubles facing the industry. What we don’t hear enough is how much communities rely on a credible local news report to keep up with life in their own backyard. Studies tells us that readers are more likely to trust local news than national news and that has been the case for a while.

As we met in seminars and gathered together in the large hall of the historic Gideon Putnam resort hotel, it was readily apparent that the industry’s future depends on preserving that trust in local news. Over and over the point was made that the default for news readers was for local news.

It came as no surprise that AI (artificial intelligence) was a hot topic among journalists and business leaders. Many featured speakers had been lined up to present seminar discussions on AI. Many of those same speakers also began by noting that at other recent engagements they had been drafted to cover the topic. A recent sampling of journalists across the board revealed that 28% of them are using AI right now. Another 20% plan to look into it. Surveys of news organizations show 60% of newsrooms have no policy in place on AI. Another way to put it is to say that most people are adopting a “wait and see” approach. However, some college professors at the conference said they believe the responsible thing to do is prepare their students for what’s to come: more reliance on AI.

There’s consensus that AI will likely provide new efficiencies in the workplace, Ten years ago the Associated Press began using AI to automate stories about corporate earnings, freeing up reporters and editors from the drudgery of repetitive work. There also was a consensus that AI definitely is coming. In fact, it is here. And there was awe at the pace that machine language is learning.

An important message to everyone at the NYPA conference was to be transparent with readers about AI. If you are using it in your newsroom, tell your readers. The Pulitzer Board, which administers the Pulitzer Prize for achievement in newspapers, magazines, literature and music, required journalism entries in 2024 to disclose the use of AI in researching, reporting or presenting stories to readers. Five out of the 45 finalists had relied on AI in their work.

We don’t use AI in our news coverage at The Lakeville Journal or The Millerton News. We’re curious about its ability to offer efficiencies. But our stories and photographs still are produced by our very human staff. That approach now has a technical label: it’s called human-centric. When and if we ever tiptoe into AI to help us do our job, we will share our approach with you. That, too, is a human-centric approach.

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