Credit: Photo by Visit Greenland on Unsplash

When talking about artificial intelligence in the newsroom, there is too much focus on the technology and not enough on what it actually does. We want to help journalists, technophiles or technophobes to explore this topic in an accessible way. So we are launching a second series of "I am a journalist, what can AI do for me?" that brings stories from your peers who work with editorial robots.

Greenland, a North American autonomous territory of Denmark, has two official languages - Greenlandic and Danish. This means all communication - from admin to news - has to be in both languages by law.

This makes news publishing in Greenland expensive and time-consuming, as most content goes out in Danish and is then translated to Greenlandic and republished a couple of hours later.

The new managing director of Greenland’s largest news publisher Sermitsiaq, Masaana Egede, looked to automation to solve this headache. But he soon realised that big tech firms prioritise automated translations for widely-spoken languages while minority languages, like Greenlandic, are largely ignored by the developers.

Luckily, that was not the case for Danish startup Media Catch, who started working with Sermitsiaq on a proprietary AI tool that translates articles between Danish and Greenlandic. The tool was trained on 20 years' worth of Sermitsiaq’s journalistic content translated by professionals, so it was accurate and had the right news style and tone of voice.

"When they told me they can do this translator, I was sceptical," says Egede. "I thought Greenlandic is so different from all other languages they will never be able to do it.

"But we gave it a shot and it turned out much better than expected."

Before the automated translations were implemented, the publisher worked with four human translators. Now, instead of cutting them off to save money, Egede’s vision is to let humans use the AI-powered tool to create more work opportunities. Every automated translation is still checked by a human before being published. But the collaboration between machines and humans does not stop there.

Since the autumn of last year, Sermitsiaq's readers can buy a subscription bundle that includes access to the AI translator. Given that the entire society operates in two languages and people often need translations, this successfully addresses a specific user need. And, rather than increasing the subscription fee, Egede lowered it to get more subscribers on board. He was expecting a loss at the end of 2023 but the strategy actually brought profit.

"Editors often think that people buy news but they are really buying services like sudoku, recipes, weather or traffic news," he says.

"This is another service that people need. For some, this may be the main reason to subscribe and they get the news on the side."

The tool has not been welcomed by everyone though and the translators community is largely worried about job loss. Opponents also argue that, although surprisingly accurate, a machine can never do the job as well as a human.

Egede tends to agree but insists that speeding up the translation process can bring more work for translators, not less.

"Maybe this is just a start and it’s not the solution but I think this will help our society move forward," he says, adding that speedy and cheap automated translation can help the Greenlandic society open up their culture to the world. The tool can be used beyond news - books, art or research can now be translated into Danish and bring more visibility to the country.

This series is supported by Utopia Analytics, a Finnish company that enables AI-automated moderation in any language of reader comments and cuts down the publishing delay. Inappropriate behaviour, bullying, hate speech, discrimination, sexual harassment and spam are filtered out 24/7 so teams can focus on moderation policy management and engage with readers. Utopia Analytics has no editorial input in the series.

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