Reports the Post: “Axios, the Washington-area-based national politics site, says it will establish online newsletters focusing on news in eight places this year, with a goal of expanding to 50 by the end of next year. The initial list comprises D.C.; Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville; and northwest Arkansas.” This is on top of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live, and where Axios bought the local newsletter The Charlotte Agenda and renamed it Axios Charlotte.
There are many newsletters in my hometown, focused on news, business, entertainment, sports, neighborhoods, multicultural audiences and other topics. One such newsletter is called The Charlotte Ledger, which recently tried a fascinating experiment: The entire newsletter was created by a piece of AI software. The editors explained: “We provided the article topics — artificial intelligence in writing, Charlotte’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the future of Bank of America, why Charlotte’s housing market is booming and 11 things to do in Charlotte — and a program we found called Conversion.ai did almost everything else, including suggesting headlines, story structure and the actual words.” (Read the newsletter here.)
On top of the article writing chops of Conversion.ai, the editors used other AI and automation software to create article summaries, and check that the AI wasn’t simply copy/pasting content from the web. They report that the whole process took about one hour -- while presumably a group of writers and editors take hours if not days to create content normally.
The newsletter was eminently readable, even though the Charlotte Ledger had to issue five corrections in its next issue, with the biggest problem the fact that the AI had written in the “Things to do in Charlotte” section about the “Olde Towne East neighborhood,” a “historic neighborhood where residents still live within walking distance of their workplaces or schools.” Charlotte has no such neighborhood. A Google search revealed Olde Towne East is actually in Columbus, Ohio.
I have written frequently about how tech is going to eat your (and my) job, and this is slowly but surely happening. COVID has accelerated a lot of automated innovation, creating more and more contactless and therefor human-less interactions. This experiment in content creation is the latest step, and although not without fault, it proves that the technology is getting there. Don’t for a moment think that the people from Axios are not paying attention. Or the people from The New York Times, Reuters or anyone else who is in the newsletter business. Or Joe Mandese, editor of MediaPost.
I don’t think AI will create deep-digging investigative journalism anytime soon. Or can write meaningful opinion rants as I do. But writing up simple content about local news and events? Simple fact reporting? That clearly is now possible, with huge further implications for the publishing and advertising world.
Are you ready for it? Happy about it? I'm not so sure…
(Disclosure: Column written and edited by humans.)