Around Town

Here’s how ARLnow is (and is not) using AI, so far

An actual human photographed their phone for this bit of AI-related stock photography (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

Given the recent kerfuffle on Instagram over ARLnow’s use of an AI-generated image to illustrate a story, we wanted to update readers on our use of artificial intelligence.

AI technology is rapidly developing and the extent to which it will ultimately reshape the media industry is unclear. The CEO of a news organization down the street from us, in Clarendon, believes AI will “eviscerate the weak, the ordinary, the unprepared in media” and is part of “a very fundamental shift in how people relate to news and information… as profound, if not more profound, than moving from print to digital.”

That may be, but for the time being our use of AI is much more practical in nature.

As an organization, we believe that AI as it currently exists is a tool that allows us to improve efficiency in secondary tasks so that we can focus human effort on the two things that matter most to our readers and our business: news reporting and client service.

What does that mean, in practice? It means that AI is used in some of the dozens of back-end automations we have deployed over the past few years, taking things like posting on social media, reviewing event submissions, and writing article summaries off the plates of our editors and reporters.

The following are ten ways we are using AI at present.

  1. Transcribe interviews
  2. Re-check articles for typos and grammar issues upon publication
  3. Evaluate submissions to our event calendar and automatically approve those that meet certain criteria
  4. Write summaries of published articles for use in our ARLnow Press Club morning newsletter and elsewhere
  5. Generate suggested social posts for sponsored content and analyze links for use in readership and engagement stats
  6. Write the weather forecast in Morning Notes (based on National Weather Service data)
  7. Select emojis for Morning Notes social posts
  8. Select the Thought of the Day and an appropriate weather emoji in the Daily Debrief post
  9. Select emojis for announcements and events section of email newsletter
  10. Automatically reformat articles to be printed and framed

Additional planned uses of AI include automated creation of a weekly “things to do” post based on event calendar data, plus optimizing and monitoring the performance of sponsored content and display advertising on behalf of our local advertisers.

There are also several ways we are explicitly not using or no longer using AI.

ARLnow has tested several potential tools for writing news articles based on source material such as press releases. None produced work that was deemed to be publication quality. Humans, frankly, are better and more interesting writers, who can add local context to stories in a way that AI struggles with.

Our teams likewise avoid using AI to write emails, preferring a more personal touch.

Finally, we have suspended our use of AI-generated images. Previously, such illustrations were used in certain situations where a more generic image was preferable to a specific, real-life local photo.

Though a slight majority of respondents to a morning poll were okay with AI images in certain situations, the poll found that 48% of readers did not want us to use such images under any circumstances.

So, we have commissioned human-created illustrations for the real estate and local business stories for which AI images were previously used. And the following rendering of a sad robot artist will be the last custom AI image we use for awhile. Farewell, robot!

A confused robot artist faces an angry crowd (generated via DALL-E)

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash