Digital Publishing

Massive Disruptions Loom for Journalism in 2024

Exploring the Impact of AI on the Information Landscape in 2024

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released its latest report on “Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions for 2024“, by Nic Newman. The report, supported by the Google News Initiative, provides insights into the changing landscape of journalism and media, with a focus on the impact of technology and shifting consumer preferences.

The report includes a survey of worldwide senior digital leaders, and covers topics such as the future of search, the business of journalism, and changing formats of news. It warns that the meteoric rise of AI will send shockwaves through the media landscape this year. With generative AI gaining the ability to create convincing content and directly answer queries, it threatens to undermine the core functions and business models of journalism. This comes amid a backdrop of major geopolitical events, economic turmoil, and weakening public trust that is already straining newsrooms worldwide.

Section 1: A Challenging Road Ahead

In the first section, the report captures the mix of apprehension and cautious optimism within the industry. Only 47% of publishers and editors surveyed felt confident about the year ahead, citing revenue declines, rising costs, and heightened legal/physical risks to journalists. However, some see high-stakes elections as potential audience boosters, even as they worry about further erosion of trust due to political polarization.

Just half of respondents are confdent about the year ahead
Just half of respondents are confident about the year ahead

Section 2: Social Media’s Disruption Escalates

This section shines a light on the dramatic pivot away from legacy social platforms like Facebook and Twitter by news publishers. Referral traffic from these sites plummeted by around 50% and 27% respectively in 2023 as they de-prioritized news content. In reaction, 77% of publishers say they will double down on owned channels like websites and newsletters in 2024, with some also cutting costs or exploring alternative distribution via WhatsApp, TikTok and YouTube.

Young creators often outstrip news publishers on TikTok in views
Which tech platforms will news organisations be focusing on in 2024?
Whatsapp becomes a much bigger deal for news
Decline in traffic to news websites from Facebook, X (Twitter), and Instagram in 2023
Alternative strategies for reaching audiences

Section 3: Search Undergoes an AI Makeover

Arguably the biggest disruption examined is the integration of generative AI into internet search. Companies like Microsoft and Google are now rolling out capabilities that generate direct answers to queries without sending users to websites. Publishers fear this could terminate the flow of traffic to their sites. The report predicts an escalating legal battle as publishers sue AI companies for fair compensation over using copyrighted content to train their large language models.

AI Assistants like Perplexity and Pi enable intuitive news conversations, but publisher brands are largely invisible
Awareness of AI chatbots and key uses of chatbots – UK audience survey
Google is rolling out AI generated search experiments in 120 countries
Publishers are not optimistic about funding from big AI companies

Section 4: Subscriptions Can’t Offset Ad Declines

On the business side, the report depicts a media industry being battered by a contracting advertising market and fragmenting audiences. It highlights the wave of job cuts and newspaper closures in 2023, even as subscription models provided a revenue lifeline for some publishers. However, with digital subscription growth slowing, the report expects 2024 to bring innovations like all-access content bundles, cheaper access extensions, and differential pricing to retain price-sensitive subscribers.

Most respondents say their company saw growth in digital subs in 2023 despite the difficult outlook
Most important revenue streams for commercial publishers in 2024
Non-news products like games and cooking are proving a great on-ramp to the bundle

Section 5: More Audio and Video Formats Coming

The report highlights how the traditional text article is being complemented by more video and audio formats as publishers adapt to changing consumption patterns, especially among younger audiences. Most surveyed publishers plan to produce more video (64% net score), podcasts (52%), and newsletters (47%) in 2024, even as text articles remain critical.

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Some key audio/video trends expected:

  • More vertical video for platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts to attract Gen Z
  • Visual distribution of popular political/interview podcasts on YouTube
  • Paid podcast subscriptions like The Economist’s recent audio paywall
  • “Unbundled” paid newsletters from major brands like the Financial Times
Economist podcasts are now mostly behind the paywall. Some FT newsletters are unbundled
Publishers will be leaning further into video and audio this year
Visualising political podcasts will be a key trend for 2024

Section 6: Battling News Fatigue and Selective Avoidance

Newsrooms are grappling with the challenge of news avoidance, with 54% of surveyed publishers admitting to prioritizing maximum audience attention over being respectful of people’s time. However, most see value in solutions like better explaining complex issues (67%), solutions-oriented journalism (44%), and inspirational human stories (43%) to re-engage disconnected audiences.

Other noteworthy trends:

  • Using AI to reformat news in simpler language tailored for specific groups
  • More constructive climate coverage focused on solutions over doomsday narratives
  • Amplifying diverse voices and perspectives from local communities
Approaches that are considered very important for combatting news avoidance/fatigue
Letting go of doomsday narratives on climate
Plestia Alaqad documents daily life in Gaza
Reformatting the news to make it more relevant to particular audiences (Artifact)

Section 7: Integrating Generative AI into Newsrooms

AI-driven automation of routine tasks like transcription, copyediting, and metadata tagging is a top priority for 56% of publishers surveyed. However, there are significant concerns around the risks of AI for content creation (56% see major reputational risk). Early AI use cases highlighted include:

  • Automated article/content summaries and image illustrations
  • AI presenters/newscasters like Slovakia’s “Hacsiko” DJ and experimental AI TV channels
  • Establishing senior AI leadership roles and cross-industry ethics guidelines
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Major publishers are also forming dedicated AI teams to explore integration possibilities while emphasizing human editorial expertise. For example, The New York Times has launched an AI newsroom team to experiment with ways AI can augment journalism, while underscoring that human judgment and reporting will remain core to their mission.

While divisions remain on the extent of AI integration, the report predicts this will be the year generative AI becomes deeply embedded across editorial workflows and tools like Helsingin Sanomat’s “Hennibot” assistant become commonplace.

AI tools everywhere
Areas seen to carry the greatest reputational risk from the deployment of AI
How the news media have been experimenting so far?
How the news media have been experimenting so far?
Most important uses of AI by news organisations in 2024
New AI roles and guidelines in the newsroom

Section 8: “Artificial Intelligence, Elections, and the News”

The upcoming elections in over 40 countries in 2024 have raised concerns about how AI technologies might be misused by politicians, activists, and bad actors to influence results. There were already instances in recent elections in Argentina and Slovakia where AI-generated imagery and audio were used to spread disinformation and denigrate candidates.

While these interventions haven’t played a major role yet, polls show many Americans believe AI will increase the spread of misinformation during the 2024 campaign. Political campaigns are starting to use AI tools to generate synthetic media content and microtarget audiences, raising concerns about lack of regulation.

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Tech companies are trying to counter this by requiring disclosure of AI use, boosting election integrity teams, and working with fact-checkers. But examples already exist of undisclosed use of AI in campaign ads by candidates like Ron DeSantis.

The report discusses how synthetic AI content has been used for propaganda in conflicts like Israel/Gaza. It notes that while much of the “deepfakes” have been relatively easy to spot so far, the vast majority of surveyed publishers think AI will lower public trust in news overall.

However, some argue it could allow quality media to differentiate themselves. Regulators in the EU are getting tougher through acts like the Digital Services Act and forthcoming AI Act that aim to make platforms more accountable for harmful content. Widespread labeling of AI-generated content is expected this year.

Fact-checkers are also exploring integrating AI techniques to detect false claims and synthetic media faster. Companies like Full Fact and The Newsroom are developing AI tools to cross-reference claims, identify contradictions, and provide contextual information to journalists.

AI tools to increase the spread of false information
AI tools to increase the spread of false information
70% of respondents think that AI and Generative AI will, on balance,
lower trust levels in the news overall
Integrating AI into fact-checking workflows

Section 9: New Devices and Interfaces

This section discusses new devices and interfaces that aim to reduce our reliance on smartphones in the era of AI and ambient computing. It covers hearables like smart speakers and AI-enabled headphones/earbuds, wearable devices like the Humane AI pin that projects info on your palm, smart glasses like Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro mixed reality headset, and improved VR headsets.

While many publishers remain skeptical about smartphone replacements, 41% think smart speakers/headphones could become more important interfaces. The launch of Apple’s Vision Pro is expected to showcase potential for spatial computing, with some early journalistic use cases emerging.

The section also mentions AI chatbots with celebrity personalities launching this year, as well as new tools making it easier to create 3D/immersive content publishable across devices.

New devices shipping in 2024
New devices shipping in 2024
What new devices and interfaces might (eventually) replace the smartphone
What new devices and interfaces might (eventually) replace the smartphone
Kendall Jenner and MrBeast are among Meta’s celebrity chatbot stars

Section 10: Conclusion

The conclusion notes technology is moving much faster than our ability to absorb it. Forward-thinking publishers will focus on unique content/experiences hard to replicate by AI, use AI for efficiency, and package content better for different audiences.

The wider platform impact is harder to predict, depending on public attitudes and platform responsibility. Legal battles around using news content to train AI models without compensation will be important.

Some hope unreliable synthetic content strengthens journalism’s position, while others worry about public trust crises. Government regulation of AI giants is also a key factor to watch in 2024 as we build a vision for human-AI collaboration in journalism.

Portrait of Nic Newman
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