afaqs! news bureau

News media at crossroads: Navigating the perils and potential of AI

AI's potential to generate content and disrupt traffic and jobs is a double-edged sword.

Today, Artificial intelligence (A.I.) stands as a contemporary representation of a mythical two-headed hydra. Its benevolent head offers us avenues to enrich our lives, while its malevolent counterpart poses the risk of obliterating our work, jobs, and even our existence as a species.

At the recently held DigiPub conference, the focus was on the latter scenario, as the threats posed by A.I. are no longer speculative; they are impending realities.

Moderated by Susmita Biswas, executive editor of afaqs!, a panel consisting of Faizan Ahmad, business head of web business, India TV; Idris Loya, group chief technology innovation officer, Essel Group; and Puneet Singhvi, CEO digital, and president of corporate strategy, Network18 Media and Investments, discussed the imminent threats A.I. poses.

Setting the tone on the dystopian topic was a question afaqs!’s Biswas posed to India TV's Ahmad, addressing the potential throttling of traffic to news websites by 20% to 30% once Google's Bard A.I. is integrated with the company's search engine.

Citing examples like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s zero-clicks, Ahmad highlighted the various ways a user visits a portal, emphasising the crucial role of Google Search.

He goes on to explain that the real concern arises if non-news content becomes the primary driver of traffic, because “informational content is something that will be impacted.” He contends that people typically seek both informational and transactional content, underscoring the significance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

However, Ahamd remains optimistic about the future of news content because it “has its freshness”.

Network18’s Singhvi says publishers depend on Search and social media for traffic. If one looks at A.I. and all the integrations (read Bard) that come with it, he feels it will have a general impact, but would news be affected? “We don’t know.”

The Network18 leader believes when it comes to news, “there will be a premium on freshness, reliability, and brand trust”. These factors are important both for the publisher and the platforms because “misinformation and fake news are the biggest lacunae that worry these guys.”

A trusted brand, he says, will continue to find traction. Yet, “you may have to look at additional distribution channels although Search and social will continue to hold a lion’s share when it comes to the source of traffic.”

On the contrary, Essel Group’s Loya wants to take a wait-and-watch approach, considering A.I. is still in its infancy. He outlined three paths for publishers: avoiding A.I. and risking obsolescence, utilising it at the cost of some jobs and an oversaturation of content that will outpace the rate of advertising, or confronting threats arising from misinformation and fake news.

In response, Biswas queried Loya on how the news media industry tackles challenges posed by generative A.I.’s large language models (LLM), being trained on the news content.

Loya was clear that LLMs can only train on the writing style, and not the information itself. He says one has to provide the LLMs with the information. An issue he points to is “many do not create original information but mainly recreate and reshare it. Such publications will see a lot of impact.”

However, if one is an original content creator, “copyright is yours and due credit and revenue will be provided even if it is delivered over a different platform like Google or any other third party,” states the Essel Group leader.

Ahmad, on being prompted to share his views on it, questions whether generative A.I. qualifies to write certain kinds of content. “I don't think so because it won't show where it gets the information,” he remarks.

He also nods toward  Google platforms that have the authority to display content, but “does it have the command an India TV generates (in terms of news media)?”

The leader of India TV expresses a clear intent to prioritise two key aspects: firstly, the creation of distinctive and original content; and secondly, an emphasis on the audience segment that will engage with content generated by artificial intelligence in the imminent future.

Singhvi feels publishers and platforms are two peas in a pod. “We will find a way to work with platforms as they will with us because they want the content that we have, for them to build any kind of LLM,” he states.

While acknowledging the potential coexistence of these two components, Biswas directs the conversation to a question that has remained on everybody’s mind since and, in some cases, even before OpenAI unleashed ChatGPT: How severe is the threat of people losing jobs because of A.I.? (Newsrooms in this case).

Singhvi was quick to give a six-to-12-month timeline before evaluating whether generative A.I. improved people’s efficiency levels. And if jobs are to see culling, it would come from “basic desk jobs,” he states.

Loya, on the other hand, views the positive side of things. He says the real issue is not about the loss of jobs, but “What are the new jobs we are going to do?”

He ends the session by saying we need to think of answers quicker than machines.

The Hydra’s second head, akin to Jormungand of Norse mythology, will have to wait before its actions can make the threat of A.I. an ongoing reality.

Image source: IGN

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