In many ways, the media we consume hasn’t much changed over the years.
Newspapers are still being churned out daily – the black type leaving inky smudges on our skin as we thumb them over a morning coffee – just as they were in the 17th Century.
Broadcast presenters continue to read us news bulletins on the radio much like they did when the BBC was launched 100 years ago (albeit in a far greater range of accents than was the case in 1922). Even the format of most news shows on TV today would be recognisable to viewers from the early 20th Century.
Yet in the digital sphere, plenty of innovators are busy experimenting with exciting new ways to source, produce and disseminate stories in ways that challenge many of the long-established notions about how the media works.
Here, we take a look at some of the fascinating trends that are up-ending traditional concepts about who and what makes the news…
Robots writing news?
Anyone consuming a piece of news can safely assume that the creator at the other end of it is another human being just like them. Right?
Not necessarily, thanks to the organisations and tools which – to greater or lesser extents – are employing AI to produce stories for them.
One of the best examples of this is RADAR AI (which stands for Reporters and Data and Robots), an automated news agency which uses AI tools to help create data-driven stories. The articles are written by real journalists, then “mass localised” – adjusted to be relevant to any given town or city across the country – by robots.
If you read your local paper, you’ve likely come across one of these stories – the service is used by 300 news outlets in the UK.
Why is this important? With local media sites chronically underfunded (and increasingly closing down), their reporters don’t have time to sift through complex spreadsheets and try to tease out compelling, data-inspired narratives. This service gives them a quick and easy way to share location-relevant, public interest stories with readers.
Another organisation making use of AI for virtuous ends is Full Fact, a fact-checking charity that checks and corrects both facts published in the news and claims circulating on social media.
It uses technology to help its team of independent fact-checkers monitor the news for claims they might want to check the veracity of, as well as identify repetitions of an incorrect claim, and has received funding to further explore how machine learning can improve and scale up this work.
Amid a landscape where our very own Prime Minister has repeatedly been accused of lying to and misleading the public with false claims, this is a worthy aim.
What’s the story?
Traditionally, newsgathering went in a single direction: a journalist rooted around to find out what was going on and then shared this knowledge with their readers, listeners or viewers.
But increasingly organisations and projects are challenging this hierarchy and empowering news-consumers to tell journalists what it is they want them to report on.
For Tortoise Media, this comes in the form of inviting members who sign up to the site to join its weekly news meeting to give their two cents on the news agenda and suggest story ideas the team should pursue.
Meanwhile, Noteworthy, a crowdfunded investigative journalism platform based in Ireland, sees members of the public suggest ideas for stories and then donate funds to cover the cost of investigating them.
Another, very early stage (and pretty left field) example is Anomus. While it’s yet to officially launch, this site intends to be a “decentralised news protocol” where anyone can become a creator and make content for others in the community to consume.
Every post will be minted as an NFT on the blockchain in order to make it tamper proof. “Auditors” who fact-check the content will be incentivised to challenge any misinformation, with the idea that the site develops into a fair, self-sustaining ecosystem, governed only by its own community.
Are these innovations the future? Who knows how mainstream they will become – and what other revolutionary ideas might follow. Until then, if you want to get to grips with the media and win your brand some press coverage, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
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