By Tim Wolff, Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation, Futuri Media
The artificial intelligence world is here to stay. What will it mean for our local media?
AI will mean there will be a lot more content for consumers, some of it propaganda or fake
We’ve all seen the power of ChatGPT and other emerging AI technologies. It’s been a public explosion of what had been happening quietly: artificial intelligence writing content for publications, marketing, and a variety of businesses.
While it’s been common in data-based sports and finance stories, AI is now available to create content for just about anyone. That includes the propaganda and fake news websites that have exploded in recent years. The concepts behind those sites aren’t new, but politicians and others working on behalf of governments are using them more frequently. And AI allows anyone to make realistic sites in moments without spending much money.
What does this mean? It means viewers and listeners are about to be inundated with even more “news” from everywhere. While some will be fooled, people will quickly turn to a critical commodity: news they can trust to be real.
Consumers will value TRUST above all, and the knowledge that what they are getting is real and authentic.
What is more authentic than the news brand I’ve read for years? As a user who sees stories from anywhere and everywhere, I’ll become skeptical that the news I see is real (if I’m not already). I’ll seek comfort in a brand that I trust – even if it’s a brand I’ve spent less time reading in recent years.
This is an opportunity to bring back the audience we’ve lost to other forms of media.
It will mean making sure we are still getting our brand in front of consumers everywhere, keeping us top of mind as they think about news. This is why we still need to invest in SEO, social, and other areas. But in the end, when readers, viewers and listeners need to go to someone they can count on, it will be the local media brands they know.
The best place for that will be local media O&O products: TV, radio, newspapers, apps, and websites.
Is that article I saw on social or the internet really from my local paper? That’s a question we will encounter as more bad actors take advantage of AI to confuse people. National brands like ABC have battled intentional confusion for more than a decade. Now it is easier than ever before for anyone – even a lone person working from home without meaningful financing – to create credible-looking content that looks like your brand.
Where will audiences go to find content they know is true when they’re being inundated with propaganda? They’ll go to the places they know you own: your app, your paper, and your website at the URL they know. This will actually lead to a resurgence in direct traffic to websites — for those that are wise about discoverability. Better yet, all that work you’ve done driving them to your apps over the years will yield immense benefits as people seek sources they know and trust.
And when they come to you online, on-air, on social, or anywhere your brand is, it is the authenticity and connection that will be key drivers. Using AI properly is part of this. RadioGPT™ can use AI to create authentic radio experiences, even when live hosts are not available. In TV, efforts are underway to use AI-generated TV anchors. In print and digital, AI-stories already exist in abundance. Some are legitimately focused on truth and news, but others may be delivering propaganda or news that isn’t credible. That is another reason consumers will turn to the brands they know – the ones they can believe are real, or at least will know are AI versions of their trusted reporters, from their trusted brands. This will make local media more valuable, and their owned-and-operated (O&O) products are the best way to do that.
Social platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, may also decline as a driver of news traffic.
The first thing to remember is that these are essentially distributors, sending out our news to bring people (hopefully) back to our websites. If and when news is de-emphasized on these platforms, news consumers will have to seek it somewhere else. The importance of SEO will likely grow, but consumers will still be stuck: how do they know what to trust what they find randomly searching the internet? Again, this will be the time they need to turn to our trusted O&O platforms.
News organizations need to take care in how people are discovering their brands now. If I come to you from social or search, are you trustworthy? (Hint: if you have a billion pop-up ads and your articles are hard to read, you are not).
All of this is, of course, predicated on the idea that consumers trust you. If they don’t, you’re in trouble. You should be working to make sure people coming to your brand now have a solid trust in the news you’re doing (and if you are doing research, you need to get responses beyond the kneejerk “I don’t trust any media,” because lots of people will say that but still harbor trust for their local media).
Most newsrooms have plans and policies around this, doing things like tracking balance and diversity, and having deep discussions about journalism. Unfortunately, too many of these initiatives are harmed not by the journalists, but by the digital experience we give our would-be users.
Does your research show you have a trusted brand or people, but that your digital brand rates lower? Start addressing it by taking a look at what the user’s digital experience is like. Many of our local brands now have websites that look like the clickbait vultures we all try to avoid. In some cases it is almost impossible to read the article, not just because of ads but because links are deliberately placed to fool users to click ads. That experience does not engender trust.
The time is now to fix that. Make it so users get the same trust experience on your website that they get in your paper or your broadcast.
As news consumers turn to you, can they get everything they need?
If they only get some of what they need from you, that means they have to go somewhere else, too (and maybe they’ll like that place better).
Part of trust is not just telling the truth. It’s users placing their trust in you, that if they need to know it, you will tell them. Our local brands have really done a good job focusing on local news in many markets, but there’s a reason we still must cover regional and national news on our local stations: our readers, viewers and listeners still want and need it.
Figuring out what our audience wants is another area where AI can help. For more than a decade, Futuri’s TopicPulse has used data and artificial intelligence to show newsrooms the news topics their local audience cares about most. Now it includes AI that can help newsrooms write stories and create videos faster.
It’s a leading example of how stations can and should be using AI to drive greater trust from the audience.
In sum, AI is a tool, and consumers will go to the brands they trust who use it well.
Artificial intelligence at scale is here. It is now and will forever be a part of our lives, our media, and our relationship with trust. The tools rapidly being created create nearly unlimited opportunities, but only our local, established brands are well positioned to use these AI advancements to deliver trusted and authentic news to our audiences.
And that will be the biggest commodity in our AI future.
Tim Wolff is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri. He has 20+ years of experience as a digital and broadcasting leader. To continue this conversation on AI, contact him on Linkedin or be email at email@example.com.