The BRIEF: How AI Can Provide Relief for America’s News Deserts

  • Over 2500 newspapers have closed since 2005, leaving approximately 6500 remaining.
  • There is a lack of consensus on how to address the issue of news deserts in America.
  • AI technology can assist journalists by handling back-end work and freeing up time for reporting.

The decline of local journalism in America has led to the rise of news deserts, but AI technology could be the solution by freeing up journalists’ time for reporting and research. The proliferation of news deserts is a threat to American democracy as it leads to less civic participation, more corruption and disinformation spread.

How AI Can Provide Relief for America’s News Deserts

The Local News Ecosystem in America

It’s no longer a breaking story that local journalism in America is in a state of disrepair. News deserts—communities that no longer have a daily newspaper—began cropping up in significant numbers more than 20 years ago; in the present-day media landscape beleaguered by dwindling budgets, America’s news desert problem has only worsened.

Case in point: Since 2005, approximately 2500 papers have shuttered. Today, roughly 6500 remain. And of the American newspapers that were in circulation two decades ago, some estimates suggest that one-third will be out of business within the next two years. 

While the statistics are alarming, there is a lack of consensus on how to address this widespread, entrenched issue. Some communities are rallying local and state governments to divert public funding back into news. Others lean on philanthropic efforts and nonprofits, while still others either aren’t aware of the scope of the issue or don’t perceive a lack of local journalism as a significant threat. 

Further complicating matters are public perceptions regarding the role of technology and journalism, particularly in the context of the rise of artificial intelligence. Local journalists fear a future where AI will take their place in a fast-shrinking job market. But what if artificial intelligence is actually a part of the solution? What if AI is the key to solving this seemingly intractable problem of news deserts in America? 

AI’s Role in Empowering Local Journalists and Newsrooms 
AI—particularly assistive AI—has the capacity to address news deserts by evolving the way content is created and shared. In fact, assistive AI technology may become a journalist’s best friend as local newsrooms continue to ask more and more of their already-lean teams. 

Nota, an AI-enabled technology company, is emphasizing the potential of assistive AI specifically because they believe artificial intelligence has the power to handle all of the back-end work—like dealing with meta-data and SEO optimization. This frees up bandwidth for journalists to focus more time on their craft: reporting. 

Nota is clearing the path for journalists in newsrooms across the United States to be able to do their jobs more effectively—especially those ultra-small teams in the most remote and underserved parts of the country. Their suite of tools enables journalists to help generate suggestions for headlines, SEO tags and pull quotes. Nota can convert an article into a short video or series of images using assets from a journalist’s own content library, as well as summarize pieces for social media, newsletters and article previews. And, perhaps most convenient of all, Nota can plug right into some of the most utilized content management systems to let teams get straight to work. 
Skepticism from reporters regarding technology’s increasing encroachment on their industry is valid; countless times media companies prioritize creating tech-backed content farms over supporting in-depth, quality journalism. But Nota is specifically designed to work alongside journalists, which could be a turning point for local news. 
For a journalist reporting for a region’s sole newspaper, time is their most precious commodity. Assistive AI technology is giving time back to journalists, affording them greater opportunities to do the kind of reporting and research that their communities demand and deserve. 

A Brighter Future? 
The proliferation of news deserts isn’t just bad news for reporters—it adversely impacts all of us. 

When communities lose local reporting, they lose their eyes on the ground. A lack of quality local journalists creates the conditions for more corruption, less civic participation and higher disinformation spread. People feel less connected to their communities and turn to largely unregulated social media spaces for information. In short, the expansion of news deserts results in the degradation of the institutions that are the very backbone of American democracy. 

To some critics, this may all sound like hyperbole. But the threats that news deserts pose are unfortunately all too real and must be addressed with every tool at our collective disposal. 

Innovation has a major role to play in the protection of our local newsrooms and journalists. Nota’s assistive AI technology is part of a solution to build a brighter future for publishers across the country.