Now in the News: American Press Institute Works With The Associated Press To Strengthen Local Election Reporting For 2024

November 10, 2023

American Press Institute Works With The Associated Press To Strengthen Local Election Reporting For 2024

Beginning this fall and throughout 2024, the American Press Institute and The Associated Press will collaborate to share resources and insights to support news organizations’ evolving needs around local elections and democracy. As news organizations review their 2023 election coverage and look ahead to 2024, this effort will seek to provide local outlets with the resources they need to strengthen understanding of American democracy.

“AP has played a unique role in U.S. elections for over 175 years by counting the vote, declaring winners, and reporting the results with clarity and context,” said AP Washington Bureau Chief Anna Johnson. “We are pleased to work with the American Press Institute to share our expertise with local newsrooms as they prepare to cover one of the biggest stories in American politics.”

This month, AP will share local reporting tips in API’s election-focused Need to Know Special Edition, which will be published each Monday in November via API’s main email newsletter and on API’s website. The series will help journalists and media leaders take stock of their 2023 coverage — what worked well and what didn’t — to support their coverage planning for 2024.

“News leaders today have to balance so much, including daily reporting needs with bold goals for the future,” said Kevin Loker, API’s director of strategic partnerships and research. “In this collaboration with the AP, we look forward to helping news leaders think ahead — so together we can build stronger local election coverage in service of our communities in 2024.”

The two organizations will also work together on an election reporting survey to gather insights on local news organizations’ reporting needs and challenges. The survey results will inform programming and resources from both organizations in 2024. If you are a journalist or media leader who wants to share your needs, please take a few minutes to complete the survey.

API and AP have a rich history of working together to meet the information needs of communities. As part of the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, the organizations conduct research on news consumers’ attitudes to inform the industry and the public. Since 2020, AP has also led webinars in API election-focused programs, with insights from those conversations shared on API’s website.

The Colorado Sun Donates Its Share Of 24 Suburban Papers And Urges They Go Nonprofit

One of the more innovative efforts at saving newspapers from chain ownership is winding down, although the papers themselves remain protected. The Colorado Sun announced Wednesday that it would transfer its ownership shares of Colorado Community Media (CCM), a chain of 24 weekly and monthly papers in the Denver suburbs, to the nonprofit National Trust for Local News, which led the effort to buy the papers two years ago. The Sun had been given a stake in CCM in return for helping to run the papers.

The reason given for pulling out was that the Sun is in the process of converting from a for-profit public benefit corporation to a nonprofit, which I wrote about recently for Nieman Lab. A story in the Sun that appeared Wednesday urged nonprofit status for CCM as well: “Just as we believe that nonprofit is the right fit for The Sun, we believe it’s a good fit for these weeklies, too. That will be a decision for the Trust and the board of directors of the Colorado News Conservancy, the parent company of CCM.” No money is changing hands. (The Conservancy is the entity established by the National Trust and the Sun to run the CCM papers).

Sun editor and co-founder Larry Ryckman said on X/Twitter: “We’ve been proud co-owners of Colorado Community Media for 2 years & wish it well in this new chapter. They’re doing great work & deserve your support.” Linda Shapley, publisher of CCM, was quoted in the Sun as saying: “I’m grateful for The Sun’s support at a time that was most critical for our future At Colorado Community Media, we’re excited to be part of the evolving Colorado news ecosystem, and we’re dedicated to serving our communities with timely, factual news and information.”

The Sun and CCM are the subject of a chapter in “What Works in Community News,” a book about the future of local journalism by Ellen Clegg and me that will be published in January. In September 2021 I spent nearly a week in

Denver reporting on Colorado’s media ecosystem. Obviously that ecosystem is still in flux, but the period covered by our book ends in late 2022.

I believe what was taking place in Colorado back then is a story still worth telling: the founding of the Sun by 10 journalists who’d quit The Denver Post following deep cuts by its hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital; the Sun’s early hopes of raising money through blockchain technology; its unique governance structure; and its participation in the acquisition of CCM.

Ellen and I look at our book not as a standalone entity but, rather, as the hub of an ongoing story that also comprises updates to our website, a podcast (Shapley, National Trust executive director Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, and former Denver Post editor Greg Moore have all been guests, and we hope to have Ryckman on once the book has been released), and an evolving social media presence (we’re currently on X/Twitter and Mastodon, but that may change).

How AI Could Help Publishers Prove The Value Of Their Journalism

The issue with AI as a tool for creation is that it raises the question of how much human interaction is required for something to be considered ‘human made’. Publishers should be looking for ways to demonstrate the provenance of their journalism, from inception through creation to publishing.

There’s lots of talk – again – about whether AI will replace journalists. The answer is no, at least not until it can walk around, conduct interviews, and start drinking too early. After all, journalists have been using AI to help put their stories together for years at this point. It’s just a tool, and handymen weren’t replaced by their hammers.

But what it does do is allow for the creation of content at scale. While the outlets that have disclosed they’re using generative AI are all at least paying lip service to using it responsibly, it has the potential to make the pink-slime problem much more prevalent.

If you thought competition for adspend was already fierce, it just might be about to become even more so. It doesn’t take much to pump out endless iterations on the same story already; just imagine how much easier generative AI will make it. But that’s content, not journalism.

So while AI won’t directly replace journalists, it could potentially make the economics of digital publishing even worse for the publishers that employ them. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. In fact, the ease with which content can be generated provides an impetus for publishers to change how their journalism is presented – and in such a way that it could help their bottom lines. It could push newspapers to put provenance at the heart of digital publishing.

Time and transparency I’ve sat in on a few sessions and roundtables over the past few weeks where creatives and artists have argued that ‘human-made’ will be the key differentiator in the age of AI. That having a human thumbprint on the work will increase its value, because it is truly original and unique. The issue with AI as a tool for creation is that it raises the question of how much human interaction is required for something to be considered ‘human made’.

Unlike, say, filters in Photoshop or spellcheck in Docs, AI can reduce human interaction to a simple, single prompt, at which time the AI takes over. Is that ‘human-made’? What if an artist draws a very rough sketch then prompts Stable Diffusion to turn it into a masterpiece in the style of Rembrandt? The user did some composition, after all, so is that now ‘human-made’? What about if they then refined it and asked the AI to use a specific colour palette instead, and to remove parts of the image? Is that, after all that human interaction, now ‘human-made’? The point is that it will be very hard to prove that any art is ‘human-made’, as the point at which that becomes ‘made by AI’ is a moving target. The same is true for journalism: is a journalist writing a 400 word piece and asking Bard to expand it to 1200 words a ‘human-created’ article? What about just a prompt to rewrite another piece from the web? To get around accusations of just generating art from a prompt, I’ve seen artists on Twitch stream the entire process of creating the art. Starting from a blank canvas, they document the process from conception to completion. That video is the provenance of the piece – it’s proof of the work that was put in, and even if they use AI during the process at least it’s documented. There’s no reason pieces of digital journalism couldn’t do something similar. Just as Twitter shows the timeline of edits made to a tweet, articles could provide timestamps of their development and creation. Those timestamps, or however the article’s provenance is demonstrated, is proof of the time spent by the journalist, if nothing else. There are problems to be worked through, obviously, particularly in a world where articles need to be heavily legalled before they actually go live. And inevitably there would be ways to fake time being spent on an article. But even providing evidence that the article was being worked on for hours, days etc. rather than the seconds required to generate one from whole cloth – that has to be worth experimenting with. And it wouldn’t just benefit the publishers who want to demonstrate their content is worth subscribing to, either.

Premium and perceptions of value News publishers have always made the case that their articles are so inherently important to audiences that it adds value to the advertising that sits alongside it. You’ll hear that described as ‘premium’, tacitly suggesting that other content online is worth significantly less. That’s the basis for private marketplaces (PMPs) like Ozone, which sell advertising on the understanding that the context of a newspaper’s website provides uplift to the brands that advertise on it. But for the most part that value is based solely on that context rather than the articles themselves. There have been attempts to provide ‘scores’ for articles based on other criteria – most notably – but the vast majority of articles on the internet are still undifferentiated in value. At the same time the twin issues of disinformation and trust are also being exacerbated by generative AI, as I wrote about here, so the considerations for news publishers are both commercial and societal.

So with those pressures, what can publishers do to reassert the value of their articles and combat the issues of disinformation? The answer is to bring the provenance of their journalism to the fore. By integrating the existence of that provenance – even if it’s just evidence an article was being worked on for a while – into news quality scores, it helps differentiate human-created articles from the pink slime of AI generated content. As I mentioned earlier, it is far from a perfectly realised idea. It might even be made redundant if the makers of AI tools require disclosure of the level of their involvement, or through regulation. It would require dev time and resources to be made available at a time when those are increasingly scarce, and for the uptake of a news scoring index from the big search players. But in the era of AI-generated content, it would help publishers prove that their articles are genuinely made by humans

– and therefore more valuable to both their readers and advertisers.

The New York Times Passes 10 Million Subscribers

The company reported an adjusted operating profit of $89.8 million in its latest quarter, up from $69 million a year earlier.

The New York Times now has more than 10 million subscribers, the company said on Wednesday, edging closer to its goal of 15 million by the end of 2027. In its third-quarter report, The New York Times Company said it had added 210,000 net digital-only subscribers in the three months through September, giving it 9.41 million along with 670,000 print subscribers.

The Times Company has focused on getting subscribers to sign up for more than one of its offerings, which include the core news report, Cooking, Games, the Wirecutter review site and the sports news site The Athletic. Nearly 3.8 million of the 9.41 million digital-only subscribers are subscribed to at least two products, the company said.

Meredith Kopit Levien, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that the third-quarter results showed that The Times’s “multiproduct bundle” was performing well and would “further us down the path to building a larger, more profitable company.” The Times Company had an adjusted operating profit of $89.8 million for the quarter, up 30.1 percent from a year earlier. Total revenue was $598.3 million, up 9.3 percent from a year earlier.

The Athletic, which the Times Company bought for $550 million in early 2022, recorded an adjusted operating loss of $7.9 million for the quarter, an improvement from a $12.1 million loss a year earlier. The Athletic has lost about $68 million since the acquisition. Times executives said at the time of the deal that they expected The Athletic to take three years to turn profitable.

Quarterly revenue at The Athletic grew 45.8 percent year over year, to $34.4 million, because of an increase in subscribers and the introduction of display advertising, The Times said.

The Times disbanded its sports desk in September, with reporters and editors moving to other sections across the organization. Content from The Athletic, which is operated separately from The Times’s core newsroom, is now used in The Times’s print paper and its digital report.

Despite a challenging advertising environment across the industry, The Times posted a 6.7 percent year-over-year increase in digital ad revenue, to $75 million, aided in part by the new ad sales for The Athletic. Total advertising revenue was up 6 percent, to $117.1 million.

The Times, like other newspapers, has seen a steady decline in print subscribers. It has lost 70,000 in the past year.

For the final quarter of this year, the company expects total subscription revenue to increase 8 to 11 percent from a year ago on an adjusted basis, it said, while it forecast a single-digit percentage increase in digital advertising revenue.