Three key takeaways from NYC Media Lab Machines + Media

Three key takeaways from NYC Media Lab Machines + Media

I recently attended NYC Media Lab’s 2017 Machines + Media session. The conference was hosted by Bloomberg and featured 40+ speakers from all backgrounds across the digital media, tech and big data spaces.

The primary focus of the numerous panels was to discuss how machines, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, are changing the media landscape.

Here are three major themes that emerged from the conference.

1. Only thing machines can’t replace -- your voice!

Publications are looking for ways to work more efficiently while keeping costs low and one of the largest challenges is defining and maintaining their “voice.”

Panelists throughout the day agreed that it’s nearly impossible to automate an outlet’s voice because the voice reflects the many personalities of the company. This isn’t just the reporters on the ground, it includes the data scientists who are often now being pulled into roles traditionally held by reporters. It also includes the editors, contributors and now more than ever, the social media following.

Machines can make producing content faster but they can’t replace the personality and voice of any company. That will always owned by the people.

2. Alexa, create a report for me with these demographics!

OK, Amazon Alexas are not there yet, but could this scenario be possible in future newsrooms?

The topic of discussion was how ethics is factored into machines and the media landscape.

For example, is it ethical for outlets to replace interns (who are often tasked with mundane work like data entry) with bots that can easily automate the work? I hope it doesn’t come to this. As a former student intern at WCAX Channel 3 in Vermont, I’m forever grateful for the experience to learn from the best “real-life” people on the creative services and broadcast teams. It undeniably helped me land a fulfilling career in the communications industry in New York City. I’d bet this similar experience is shared by many young communications professionals. The silver lining here is that if bots take over tasks traditionally held by people, the same people are now free to take on different roles and engage in new experiences within the company.

The automation and ethics debate is one that will be lingering around for awhile. It reminds me of a great line from Jurassic Park when Dr. Ian Malcolm says, “{scientists} were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should!” I think that same principle applies to AI taking over in the newsroom.

3. Focus on the individual

Dheerja Kaur, Head of Product at theSkimm believes when companies are strategizing how to deliver content they are now considering it more from the individual’s standpoint. This is a shift away from the tradition of thinking of the “product” first and shows how the new age of personalized media is taking over.

Publications want to quickly and effectively deliver specific news to targeted markets. AI can help quickly compile background metrics, but only real humans can analyze it and refine it to speak to their audience. For example, in the recent presidential election, polling centers were sharing the same cold-hard numbers with news outlets all over the country. These numbers can be picked up by bots at every outlet, but only the human reporters and editors can find a way to make the data into unique news that will interest their readers.

It’s a fascinating time to be working in media, especially as machines and AI continue to creep into our day to day.

Upon waking, I immediately check my Muck Rack alerts which automatically deliver news on my favorite sports teams. All day I communicate with colleagues through Slack channels, so it was easy to relate to panelist and Slack’s Engineering Manager Jerry Talton discuss how bots are changing internal communications. By end of day, I find myself talking to my Amazon Alexa more than my friends!

While there is little debate that AI and bots are playing an ever increasing role in the media landscape, it’s also an exciting time to witness these changes. Let’s just hope the changes are for the better.

Ted Schwinden is an experienced communications professional with 5+ years of client management experience. He currently helps clients maximize value with Muck Rack's tools for pitching journalists, monitoring media and reporting on press hits.

Photo via Pixabay

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