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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

NY Times Forms AI Team for Newsroom Innovation

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The publication is hiring engineers and editors for a new team that will experiment with uses for generative AI but says journalists will still write, edit, and report the news.

The New York Times will begin building a team to explore the use of generative AI in its newsroom. Zach Seward, recently hired by the publication to head AI initiatives, posted on Threads that the team will be “focused on prototyping uses of generative AI and other machine-learning techniques to help with reporting and how the Times is presented to readers.” 

Seward’s post said the Times plans to hire a machine learning engineer, a software engineer, a designer, and a couple of editors to round out the AI newsroom initiative. So far, the Times has posted job listings for an associate editorial director for AI initiatives and a senior design editor.

“The team, led by the editorial director for A.I. initiatives, will also include colleagues with a mix of engineering, research, and design talent, acting as a kind of skunkworks team within the newsroom. Together, they will partner with other teams in the news, product, and technology groups to take the best ideas from prototype to production,” the listing for the associate editorial director, AI initiatives, reads in part. 

In a memo posted after Seward’s hiring, the Times said that while it’s excited to bring AI tools to the company, it believes that “Times journalism will always be reported, written, and edited by our expert journalists.”

The Times has had a rocky relationship with generative AI. It was one of the first news organizations that blocked OpenAI’s web crawler from scraping its content. That then snowballed into its lawsuit against the AI company and Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor, alleging that ChatGPT reproduces its articles word for word, undermines the publication’s relationship with readers, and deprives it of revenue. It is unclear whether the Times will partner with an AI model provider or build its tools. 

Many news organizations have begun exploring how (and whether) to bring AI, both generative and “traditional” machine learning, to newsrooms. Axel Springer, publisher of Politico and Business Insider, inked a deal with OpenAI to share content with the AI company and explore how to use AI in its reporting. The Associated Press also signed a similar agreement.

Of course, it’s always tricky melding AI and newsrooms. So far, it has brought a proliferation of fake news and stories written by AI with fake human bylines. This experiment, though, might be different. The Times will still have human journalists write the news.

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