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Don’t look now, but mainstream publishers are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) – and especially the type of generative AI popularized by ChatGPT – in an effort to remain relevant with readers. The latest proof comes from The New York Times, which recently posted a new job listing called “Newsroom Generative AI Lead.” The job offers a starting salary ranging from $118,000 to $200,000, depending on the experience of the candidate.
Key features of the new AI job
So what exactly is The New York Times expecting from generative AI? A big hint comes from the detailed job listing. First and foremost, the Newsroom Generative AI Lead will be expected to have deep journalistic experience, in order to put any new AI innovations into the right journalistic context. And he or she will need to manage complex, cross-functional teams in order to bring new products to market. So this means AI will likely impact the entire organization, not just the newsroom. Somewhat surprisingly, the ability to code is “preferred, but not required.”
Putting all this together, The New York Times is likely looking to create a brand new revenue stream from within the newsroom using AI. These days, news is pretty much a commodity online, and nobody is willing to pay for it. So the idea must be to use AI to create a new type of value-added news product capable of getting paid users.
On this front, there are plenty of hints from the job description itself. For example, it says that the candidate must be able to assess generative AI ideas, explain the vision for generative AI across the company, and then develop a strategy that can be extended across all products. And there’s plenty of mention of research and prototyping, so the expectation is that whatever hatches from within the newsroom will probably require several iterative cycles to get right.
Will AI transform online news and content?
While it’s impossible to know exactly what The New York Times has in mind for generative AI, it is worthwhile to consider the various ways that AI might impact the current business model of publishers. In the current model, the goal is to monetize content (i.e. news) with advertising. And the way you do that is by getting your content up on the biggest social media platforms, especially Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter). There, the more you can get people to click, like, and engage with your content, the more money you can make from advertising.
This emphasis on social media has led to the rise of the almighty algorithm, which determines which content gets shown, and to whom. Right now, the goal of any algorithm is to maximize engagement, so that usually means showing people on social media content that is polarizing or triggering. And it means running with headlines that sometimes approach the level of clickbait.
If the new AI hire is able to come up with a new model that avoids this heavy emphasis on algorithmic models, clickbait content, and advertising, it might be a major breakthrough. Surely, The New York Times has more resources than other companies to bring this to fruition. The only caveat, of course, is that the company might decide to cut back on headcount if it determines that AI chatbots can do a better job than humans of analyzing the news and coming up with catchy headlines.
“All the news that’s fit to print”
The New York Times came up with the legendary tagline “All the news that’s fit to print” at the turn of the 20th century during the reign of legendary publisher Adolph S. Ochs. Now, 125 years later, it might be time to let the AI chatbots determine what should be printed, and what should be “news” on a daily basis.