How to Save Local Journalism with AI

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Nota Staff

Local journalism, once the vibrant heartbeat of communities, is facing a silent demise. A broader trend is emerging as local news outlets shutter across the country, contributing to the growing silence in what the Brookings Institution terms “news deserts” — counties lacking any local news coverage, leaving 65 million Americans in informational isolation.

The Urgency of Embracing AI: A Futuristic Approach

Unable to turn back time to when newspapers were omnipresent sources of community and public accountability, we must look to the future to revive the local news ecosystem. The solution lies in embracing the power of AI, especially at a time when local news faces financial challenges due to the shift of advertising online and the prevalence of free services from Big Tech.

A Call for Adoption in Journalism

With a global adoption rate of 35 percent, AI has become a ubiquitous force in various industries. ChatGPT, with over 100 million users in just two months, stands as one of the most rapidly adopted applications in history. Traditional news outlets, once late adopters of web publishing, must now avoid falling behind in this accelerated age of AI.

AI’s Influence Across Industries

Living in a world where AI influences much of the text and images we encounter daily, from autofill features in text messages to online shopping recommendations and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. Leading newsrooms globally, including The Washington Post and the BBC, are already tapping into AI’s potential through proprietary tools like ModBot, Heliograf, and Juicer.

AI’s Role in Local Journalism

For local journalism, AI holds the potential to be a game-changer, saving time and resources for newsroom reporters. As shrinking budgets force journalists into multitasking roles, AI can streamline their workload, freeing up more time for actual reporting. Tasks such as editable headlines, social copy, file formatting, SEO optimization, and post optimization for social media can be automated, allowing journalists to focus on content creation.

Unlocking Value for Local Journalism with AI

Beyond individual journalists, AI can revitalize the entire business of local journalism. Many publications have vast back-catalogs of content that remain untapped due to outdated formats. Large language models can read, analyze, and optimize this content, turning it into a valuable online resource and a potential source of advertising revenue.

However, the transformative power of AI can only be harnessed if newsrooms embrace it promptly. This pivotal moment offers the media industry a unique opportunity to shape how AI technology develops. Reflecting on the past, if print newspapers in the 1990s had influenced how web-based distribution would impact their business models, more newsrooms might have survived the digital transition with preserved institutional and local knowledge.

AI as the Lifeline for Local Journalism’s Survival

AI stands as a beacon of hope for the future of local journalism, offering efficiency, value, and a digital transformation. It’s not just about embracing new technology; it’s about securing the survival of a vital democratic institution — local journalism. The clock is ticking, and the adoption of AI might just be the key to saving what remains of the disappearing local news landscape. With AI, journalism can not only survive but thrive, creating a sustainable and vibrant future for local news outlets.

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