Jarno M. Koponen is head of AI & personalisation at Yle News Lab where he builds teams and products that combine journalistic content, artificial intelligence and product design.
Think what would happen to the news industry if Google, Twitter and Facebook just vanished.
Billions of people use these tech giants and their AI-powered services as a source of information for their everyday lives in the form of news feeds and search engine results.
The truth is, only the elites can choose to quit mainstream tech platforms for good because they can afford to. As for the rest of our audiences, the media relies on these platforms to reach them.
This is far removed from days of old: the media was once the staple source of local, national and international information for most people in a pre-internet time.
Much has been written about the media’s historic role as the gatekeeper of publicly valuable information. With that territory, journalists and newsrooms have long been deciding what are the events worth reporting, stories worth telling, and the voices worth hearing.
Now, that era is over.
The emerging AI-powered information ecosystem has changed the way information is created, distributed and interpreted and the way it affects how people think and behave. But so too has it changed how news is gathered.
It has been helpful in many ways but harmful in others.
ISIS, QAnon and anti-vaxx movement are among the recent examples of how digital platforms can be used to radicalise people across the globe.
There are some solutions in motion. Search engines and social platforms can fight mis- and disinformation by removing content, reducing its reach (virality) or by marking it as harmful. But it is not that simple and we need to do more.
From gatekeeper to mediator
The media must accept that it cannot return to its former status as the most powerful information gatekeeper. That title now belongs to platforms. What the media must do now instead, is to solidify its role as being part of citizen’s information infrastructure. But no less of an important one. The question is: how do we do that?
First, we must remain relevant in the digital age. News media needs the right tools to report on the power of algorithms and their effects on individuals and society. That requires fundamental resetting of journalism's purpose: to aim for experiences that truly touch people’s hearts and minds.
Such tools and experiences are built by combining journalism, data science and design, by bringing together journalistic content, artificial intelligence and new user interfaces.
Secondly, we must become a mediator; one that helps people observe and understand all perceptions of reality. Academics have long discussed the notion of ‘truth’ in journalism; that two people can look at the exact same thing and see two different realities.
But this is much more complex in an AI-powered news ecosystem. We are talking about a ‘truth’ in both the physical and digital world. So, news must go deeper than ever. We have to develop constructive and compassionate coverage of solutions to challenges our audiences are facing.
Third, we must regain trust. We need to engage with citizens and address the polarised narratives that have been borne out of algorithm-led platforms.
In turn, we must be transparent about our mission, goals and objectives. The media is possibly the loudest critic of platforms with opaque algorithms which facilitate the spread of misinformation and incentivise polarisation. We should lead by example. Be transparent and encourage solutions-focused public debate that includes all voices.
Media should never think of their audiences as just 'users' or 'customers'. They are humans whose lives include many different experiences which cannot be reduced to their presence on a platform. Treating people as merely ‘users' who feed the AI-powered reaction machines results in social platforms focusing on content that boosts consumption and engagement instead of bringing stories that inspire and empower. And this is where the media can make the biggest difference.
Join us at our next digital journalism conference Newsrewired from 1 December 2020 for four days of industry expert panel discussions and workshops. Visit newsrewired.com for event agenda and tickets.