Before Jeff Bezos—the man who founded Amazon.com in1994—purchased the Post in 2013, news content that had been generated by AI wascoming from just a few, small, companies. At the time, the content those AItools could produce was number-heavy, and mostly was only used in the stockmarket, sports sections, and other applications where statistical analysis wasmost important. However, Bezos his employees at The Washington Post envisionedan AI tool that could generate more editorial content that was well written, well-sourced,and interesting for news consumers.
According to an article written by Joe Keohane ofWired Magazine, the “Heliograf” was introduced by The Washington Post in 2016and was first used to auto-publish stories during the Summer Olympics in Rio.In late 2016, a more sophisticated version was used to create content about theupcoming election. According to Keohane, the process involves editors forming abasic template or story board for the articles they are hoping to generate.
Editors and reporters can then input key phrases and plug the AI system intosources of organized data. From there, the program isolates significant data,matches it with the key phrases used, fuses the sourcing (the data) with thekey phrases (the prose), and then generates and distributes distinctiveversions on The Washington Post’s various platforms. According to Keohane thesystem can also discover statistical anomalies in the data sets it analyzes,which in the case of political reporting, can be a great way to get a tip aboutchanges in polling, for instance.Essentially, news organizations have two primarygoals when it comes to their AI tools.
The first is to use AI in order to growtheir audience. Secondly, news companies hope that AI tools will not ultimatelyreplace reporters, but rather make their newsrooms more efficient by allowingtheir reporters to spend time on stories that AI can’t tackle. Traditionally,news organizations had to target a relatively large audience with a relativelysmall number of time-intensive stories written by human beings. With an AIsystem that can create compelling content, organizations can target multiplesmaller-sized audiences with a massive number of articles written by AI aboutniche subject matter. Larger news organizations are also using AI tools togenerate more localized content. With many local news organizations struggling,larger organizations are hoping to use their AI systems to generate the localcontent that consumers are increasingly without.The Washington Post, like most every news company, ishoping to genereate new revenue streams, and is supposedly in discussions toauthorize use of its Content Management System to clients like Tronc, aconglomerate that includes the L.
A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, and several ofother regional and local papers. As companies continue to struggle with thedecreasing amount of resources, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which AIplays a larger and larger role in creating journalism. Several other news outlets have some form ofartificial intelligence. For example, “Wibbitz” is an automated program used byUSA Today in order to produce short media content on the fly.
It has theability to summarize and shorten news articles into a short script, storyboardand put together a piece made of still images and raw video footage, and caneven add robotic narration to the video. Reuters has a tool that they use tohelp measure the reliability of posts on the popular social media site Twitter.An algorithm ranks developing stories based on how much news value they have,how accurate they may be, how popular they are on the platform, and check whatothers are saying about a particular news event.
The popular website BuzzFeedoriginally developed their AI tool “BuzzBot” to crowdsource reporting from theRepublican and Democratic National Conventions, however, BuzzFeed decided toopen-source their software, making “BuzzBot” the foundation for many reportingtools that are currently being developed with an AI component.