Knight Pledges $3 Million To Help Local News Harness AI

The growth in digital media consumption produces a massive amount of data for publishers to process and analyze, but the resources needed can be out of reach for local media outlets. The Knight Foundation wants to help them use advanced software to boost revenue, cut costs and produce a better editorial product.

The nonprofit group this month pledged $3 million to support the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), which automates more advanced tasks that typically require human intervention, among local news organizations. The program follows a year-long analysis of how AI affects journalism.

AI has numerous applications, such as helping to recognize patterns in large amounts of data. Publishers can generate reams of data about the online behaviors of web visitors and use the information to personalize the user experience. That personalization not only includes recommendations on editorial content, but also the advertising that visitors see.
The world is swimming in data. Last year, researcher International Data Corp. predicted the amount of data created in the following three-year period would exceed that from the prior 30 years -- pre-dating the dawn of the commercialized internet. Making sense of that information takes more advanced tools.
“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," according to Knight. "However, local news organizations still haven’t tapped the technology’s full potential.”
Knight's funding will go to four projects, including $750,000 to the Associated Press to track AI readiness editorial and business functions, and to create a training program for more than 50 local news organizations.



The Brown Institute at Columbia is receiving $500,000 to develop AI for audience revenue strategies, such as automating the management of premium content and driving subscriptions. The NYC Media Lab and Partnership on AI will each reach $600,000 for AI research, including ethical concerns.

The program follows an analysis of dozens of AI experiments among various publishers in the past three years. Canada’s Globe and Mail, as one example, developed an in-house algorithm to handle the placement of stories on its home page. The effort improved its click-through rates and acquisitions by more than 10%, and freed up time for its journalists to work on other projects, according to Knight.
As local publishers seek ways to boost ad and subscription revenue, engage their audiences and operate more efficiently, AI shows promise in automating tasks, gaining better insights into reader behavior and personalizing the digital experience for readers.
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