October 6, 2021

A lot of us have a visceral reaction when the use of artificial intelligence in journalism comes up. Doesn’t it just mean we’ll lose more jobs?

“We are not building tools to replace people,” said Aimee Rinehart, The Associated Press’ program manager for AI. “We are building tools to automate tasks and hopefully broker opportunities for journalists to do deeper, richer stories.”

In May, the AP announced a two-year partnership with the Knight Foundation to help local newsrooms make better use of AI tools in partnership with the Knight Lab at Northwestern University. Last month, the AP announced a survey of local newsrooms to help gauge where they’re at with AI. Newsrooms don’t have to be AP members to participate. 

We really want to understand what’s happening in local newsrooms so then we can build a curriculum and tools that address that specifically,” said Rinehart, who previously worked at First Draft News.

She’s already spoken with a few newsrooms and heard about the need for transcription services, archiving, and automation for things like school lunch menus and even reporting, for instance, of high school sports.

“That’s not to say it shouldn’t be covered,” Rinehart said, but for some games, a score will do.

In 2014, the AP started experimenting with automating earnings reports, and it found removing that task from the jobs of business reporters gave them the time and space for analysis, Rinehart said. The AP has also now spent a few years working on automation and sports, and they’re not the only ones. In Mansfield, Ohio, digital newsroom Richland Source created Lede AI to help cover high school sports.

But why is the AP interested in helping local newsrooms expand capacity?

The short answer is — because it can.

“Unlike local newsrooms, AP has capacity to experiment, and experimenting means that you might fail,” Rinehart said. “Local newsrooms cannot fail. Whatever they use, it has to work.”

Following the survey, which will close in mid-November, the AP will drill down to hear from about 30 newsrooms. From that group, it could choose five newsrooms to work with for a year of strategy experimentation. Rinehart plans to share what they learn, and it starts by filling out that survey. 

Don’t get lost in the terminology, Rinehart added. The work they’re starting doesn’t intend to replace the critical thinking required of journalists, she said. 

“It’s just not replaceable.”

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists and local journalism.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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