Lindsay Grace, an associate professor in the School of Communication, and a team of fellow academics have developed an AI-generated tip sheet that can help news organizations by gathering information and providing clues to pursue.
For many journalists, the idea is to share space with artificial intelligence threatens. According to the Pew Research Center, news industry employment has fallen by 26 percent since 2008.
A combination of factors contributed to this decline, but new technologies are also responsible for the decline. The rise of the internet and social media are at the top of the list.
Lindsay Grace, the Knight Chair for Interactive Media and associate professor at the University of Miami School of Communication, believes that technology and especially artificial intelligence can help journalists today, especially at a time when they are faced with dwindling resources.
“I think we should look at the AI industry the way we look at the internet,” he said. “It’s a way to increase a journalist’s reach and effectiveness in the work they do.”
Just as viewing different websites can facilitate research on the web, AI can improve the reporting process, Grace said.
Grace and a team of scientists from several universities published a paper called “Exploring Reporter-Desired Features for an AI-Generated Legislative News Tip Sheet” that appeared in the April 2022 research journal of the International Symposium of Online Journalism. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded their project.
The team developed a tip sheet that, powered by AI, can help news organizations by sifting through information generated by meetings of state lawmakers. The system collects interesting news nuggets and provides background data on the events to help the reporters gather news.
The system generates “recipe cards” with news information gathered from a wide range of websites that provide context and perspective that would be time-consuming for a reporter to go it alone, Grace said.
“We recognize that it is extremely expensive to have a journalist listen to any state-level event,” he said. “Instead, we have these AI systems as sort of sensors to do this work for them.”
So far, the team has set up systems for states that have Sunshine Laws and therefore provide open access to state legislatures and assemblies. These are California, Florida, Texas and New York.
Grace believes that the future of journalism is for journalists to work hand in hand with computer scientists to come up with ideas to improve and facilitate their work.
To begin their research, Grace and his team sent surveys to 10,000 news industry professionals and received 193 responses. While 98 percent said it would be important to cover the policies and decisions that unfold in the state legislature, only 37 percent said they had the resources to do so.
“We want to fill that gap,” Grace said.
The system is helpful in many ways, Grace said. It not only highlights the actions of members of the state legislature that may be newsworthy, but also provides full transcripts and even videos of the meetings.
“So if the AI system tells a reporter that there was tension between two participants, the reporter can go back and watch the conversation,” Grace said. The AI can also aggregate data and numbers that would take a reporter hours to collect.
“For example, it would take a while to calculate whether someone is voting against their usual voice pattern,” Grace said. “What we do is simply put together that person’s voting history, and we give the journalists those statistics.”
But can AI go further and actually generate stories for newspapers and other news sources?
Grace said a few news outlets use AI to generate basic stories, usually reports of sports scores, real estate transactions or weather reports.
“Some of these stories are about the most mundane activities, like how the high school baseball team did last night,” he said. “These are easy to work with and numbers are put into a template.”
In the future, Grace and his team hope to develop algorithms that allow AI in journalism to do the basic work needed to create more complex stories.
But people shouldn’t be afraid of AI. “The algorithm is only as good as the human inputting the information,” Grace emphasized.
Other academic members of the team working on the project were: Patrick Howe, associate professor and associate professor of journalism at California Polytechnic State University; Foaad Khosmood, Forbes Professor of Computer Engineering at California Polytechnic State University; and Christina Robertson, executive director of the San Luis Coastal Educational Foundation.