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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - February 2023

A guide to using AI for publishers

Everyone is talking about AI at the moment, and it's certainly an interesting trend. There is a lot of potential here. However, I also see many publishers talk about, experiment, or even use AIs in ways that are seriously detrimental to the future of not just each individual publisher, but to the industry of journalism as a whole.

In this 29-page report, I'm going to talk about which AI trends publishers should look out for, which trends to experiment with and build upon, and which trends to absolutely ignore and never, ever use.

So, let's talk about the future of AI for publishers.

Before we begin, though, I want to quickly say that this report will not address the problem of journalistic employment. There are many people who are currently discussing whether AIs will take our jobs. This is an important discussion, but that's separate from the overall trend.

I personally have no doubt that, in the future, it will be possible to set up a news site that is entirely run by AI. A site where not only AIs write the stories, but also pick and edit what is important, what to present to people (in a more personalized way), with dynamic and AI driven paywalls, and AI analyzing and minimizing churn.

In fact, all of those things can be done right now, and several publishers are already using AIs to do just this, just not as a combined package. We have newspapers that are creating more personalized front pages, but having AIs analyze each individual reader. We have AIs that write stories. AIs that pick stories based on external factors that indicate news interests, and so much more.

And so the potential future of a newspaper that combines all of this in one is not that far fetched.

However, I'm not too worried about this. The real work of a journalist is not to write an article, nor is the real work of an editor to decide which articles go where on the front page.

As Jackson Ryan over at CNET recently wrote:

ChatGPT won't be heading out into the world to talk to Ukrainians about the Russian invasion. It won't be able to read the emotion on Kylian Mbappe's face when he wins the World Cup. It certainly isn't jumping on a ship to Antarctica to write about its experiences. It can't be surprised by a quote, completely out of character, that unwittingly reveals a secret about a CEO's business. Hell, it would have no hope of covering Musk's takeover of Twitter - it's no arbiter of truth, and it just can't read the room.

Something that CNET's management apparently missed.

And so, while you could already create a newspaper that is entirely written and produced by AIs, none of these tools are yet doing any of the real work of journalists. They can report the news, but they are still oblivious to all the other things that define true journalism.

What is a problem though, is that there is a lot of human-written journalism that is just not that good, and which could, very easily, just be done by an AI instead. Think how often we see a news story where everything in it is just based on a journalist reading about it somewhere else. We see this every single day. One newspaper breaks the story, and then within the next hour, hundreds of other newspapers around the world report about it too. But they don't add anything. They don't do any real journalism. They are just re-reporting the same story. In the future, humans will not need to do that kind of article. AIs will be able to do that much faster and cheaper ... along with a ton of problems that such a focus would bring.

And this is where we come to what publishers need to know about AIs.

What makes you unique?

One of the fundamental problems facing publishers everywhere is how do you get people to pay for what you do? This is a topic that I have written about at length in many of my other reports, like in "Paid-for strategies: Defining what people pay for", or in "Don't sell magazines. Sell what is in them".

Fundamentally, though, if you ask people why they don't pay for news, they will usually tell you five key reasons:

So think about this in relation to the trends around AIs, and we start to see the problem.

The first problem is that while you can get an AI to write a bunch of articles for you, so can everyone else. And as a result, we are flooding the market with seemingly identical articles.

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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