Today, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the launch of a new, $3 million initiative to help local news organizations expand the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and harness it for their long-term sustainability. As part of the “AI for Local News” initiative, Knight will fund a three-year, $600,000 Partnership on AI (PAI) project to identify the major ethical challenges for the use of AI across the news lifecycle and develop best practices for the responsible use of AI in journalism .
“Local newsrooms form the foundation of a healthy information ecosystem: They provide the meaning and context for communities making sense of their complex world,” said Claire Leibowicz, who leads the AI and Media Integrity Program at PAI. “AI tools should be leveraged ethically and responsibly in order to bolster these integral institutions. Knight Foundation and the other organizations working on the AI for Local News initiative will be wonderful partners for exploring how AI systems can be developed to support, rather than limit, local newsrooms producing and distributing content.”
Knight Foundation has long supported the acceleration of digital transformations and the smart application of technology in the news industry. At many national news organizations, AI is beginning to drive success on the operations side and in the newsroom—from enabling the use of data to increase subscriptions and serve more relevant content, to automating certain kinds of news production to reduce costs.
However, local news organizations still haven’t tapped the technology’s full potential. Lacking the knowledge to approach the use of AI as part of a coherent plan and strategy, adoption of AI technologies at local news organizations remains nascent and experimental. This creates two missed opportunities: the short-term benefit of using existing AI tools to support their organization’s business and reporting, and the long-term benefit that comes from building a staff and infrastructure capable of harnessing these tools.
“Knight surveyed about 130 newsrooms experiments using artificial intelligence and found local news organizations are falling behind in the application of AI to support sustainable revenue and audience growth,” said Paul Cheung, Director of Journalism and Technology Innovation at the Knight Foundation. “This initiative is to scale local news organizations’ internal capacity to leverage AI to help drive future business and audience growth.”
To ensure these systems are implemented ethically and responsibly, PAI plans to develop best practices for AI in local journalism through a multistakeholder process. After creating an ecosystem map highlighting major ethical challenges, PAI will bring local newsrooms into conversation with technologists, researchers, and civil society organizations. Together, this learning community will share insights on responsible practices, informing public resources created by PAI for training local newsrooms on how to use AI tools ethically and without unintended consequences.
At launch, Knight’s “AI for Local News” initiative will also support projects by the Associated Press, the Brown Institute at Columbia, and NYC Media Lab. PAI will work alongside these organizations as well as a cohort of local newsrooms to help address critical knowledge and skills gaps in the industry.
Through its AI and Media Integrity Program, PAI has held convenings, conducted research, and released recommendations addressing emergent challenges impacting the quality of public discourse and online content around the world. By empowering local newsrooms with the resources they need to deploy AI tools ethically and responsibly, this project funded by Knight Foundation’s “AI for Local News” initiative will further PAI’s mission to ensure developments in AI advance positive outcomes for people and society