Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
Large-scale closure of local news platforms in the western hemisphere during the pre and post-Covid–19 pandemic media environment calls for the enrichment of survival strategies for trouble-ridden local journalism in the eastern hemisphere. During the past two decades, between 2004 and 2023, a total number of 2,100 local newspapers were closed and 1,800 communities lost their local news outlets in the United States of America. About 60 percent of newsroom jobs disappeared between 2008 and 2023. Technological advancements, mostly the rise of the digital ecosystem considered to be the prime reason for the disruptions in the news industry.
Traditional business models of news publication depended on advertisement revenue for 200 years. With the advent of e-commerce and search engines, advertisers preferred to propagate their message at the point-of-purchase among consumers. Though advertising spend is on a consistent rise worldwide, the shift in placement adversely affected the news business. The emergence of social media as a vehicle of news dissemination is yet another factor in the row. Social media has been proven to be the most efficient mode of circulation of hyper-local news. The mainstream news media neglected hyper-local news and the appearance of citizen journalists resulted in abundant publication of hyper-local news that affects common people’s lives.
For example, any ordinary event in a family, a locality or a community is of importance for the people associated with it. Social media is capable of providing infrastructural facilities for the circulation of such news. On the other hand, traditional news platforms practice the model to produce editions aimed at a bigger section of readers, listeners or viewers. The alternative opportunity is available with the social media platforms for small groups. News consumers increasingly prefer to access news as per their choice and utility value. They shift their news consumption habit form mainstream media to social media platforms that serve their purpose. The trend is evident both in developed and developing societies worldwide.
Traditional news outlets neglected hyper-local coverage for various reasons. In providing news editions for a large cross-section of consumers they proved to be incapable to satisfy the news needs of smaller groups. They preferred not to invest money and talent in the sector. In such an environment social media offered facilities to publish hyper-local news and circulate without much expenditure. The introduction of cloud computing resulted in the abundant availability of space for content storage surpassing all the facilities of the pre and post-printing era.
However, the irony is news media has been dragged into a vicious circle of toxic environment even with the availability of high-end technologies in the post-Covid-19 pandemic ‘new normal’. Managers of social media platforms give preference to advertisement and sponsored content. They control how such content will be displayed on the consumer walls and neglect independent not-paid-for content. As a result circulation of hyper-local news in social media platforms are pushed into back benches. Social media influencers advertise everything from household consumer durables to political and religious ideologies that cover a major space in users walls. The proportion of local news appears to be shrinking day by day.
Apprehensions of possible effects of generative artificial intelligence on journalism were evident from the time of the appearance of products like ChatGPT in the later part of 2022. While a section of media analysts suspected that automation in the journalism industry may make human labour in the creative field redundant, another section speculated possibilities to overcome long-standing problems faced in journalism with the use of technology. In a notable move, after eight months of universal availability of generative artificial intelligence products, ‘Google’ could convince large media houses and ‘Open AI’ small media outlets to experiment with the use of AI technology to enrich journalism practices in the United States.
Washington-based non-profit organization ‘American Journalism Project’ established in 2019 is a venture philanthropy working to address the market failure in local news. It is being mentioned that “encouraging and adoption of new technology, to enhance journalism in the public interest, has been a core component of AJP’s venture support.” Open AI, the innovator of ChatGPT, pledged the equivalent of 37 crore 50 lakh Indian rupees to establish a partnership with 41 local news platforms through AJP “to explore ways the development of artificial intelligence can support a thriving, innovative local news field, and ensure local news organizations shape the future of this emerging technology” during July 2023.
It is further noted that “there are significant opportunities for journalism organizations to use AI : it can facilitate deeper analysis of public data and information, strengthen and personalize user experience, and develop new formats for delivering information.” “AJP aims to build the support structure for community-driven local news organizations to expand their capabilities through AI.” The grant finance will be invested in creating technology for AI studios and making pilot investments in numerous AI applications to develop tools for local journalism.
It has been agreed that the participating local news platforms will establish direct contact with ‘Open AI’ specialists to develop tools that could assist in the day-to-day operation of local journalism. The results of the experiment may serve as examples in the local news field. Traditionally journalism depended upon big enterprises and huge investments. Small local news outlets failed to compete with the big media and an opportunity has come to look forward to overcome the difficulties through technological innovations of AI. The rise of personality-based independent journalism in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ has much to expect from such automated technologies.
Video : Watch ‘American Journalism Project, Explained in You Tube’
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on July 28, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-312
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
American Journalism Project
Waldman, Steven. Strengthening local news could combat polarization