8 Dec 2019

Algorithmically turbo-charged journalism

From Mediawatch, 9:18 am on 8 December 2019

Virtual newsreaders, stock reports and election results written up by algorithms, and news organisations dishing up articles based on what you've clicked on are all examples artificial intelligence in action.

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Photo: Xinjua: screenshot

And media organisations are only scratching the surface of what's possible, according to Charlie Beckett the author of New powers, new responsibilities: a global survey of journalism and artificial intelligence. 

Prof Beckett, the founder of the journalism think tank Polis at the London School of Economics, said journalists needed to become "algorithmically turbo-charged". 

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Photo: LSE

So what does an algorithmically turbo-charged journalist looks like?

"Well sometimes they probably look a bit confused because actually understanding the algorithms is complicated but it doesn't matter it's the tools that it can give you," Prof Beckett told Mediawatch.

And those tools range from the familiar - things like simple searching within in data sets or the on the web to news organisations using algorithms to individualise recommendations - to projects like Leprosy of the Land a project by a small media company in the Ukraine that used algorithms to search hundreds of thousands of satellite images to reveal the extent of the plunder of the nation's amber resource. 

Prof Beckett said with algorithms being used more and more by governments and corporations it was important that there was transparency so journalists and others could assess whether there were biases at play. And it was important that journalists themselves were transparent about the algorithms they were using in their own work.

It's a topic that the government here has been considering. The public have until the end of this month to give the feedback on a draft algorithm charter that will set best practice guidelines for government agencies.