Community Media Discusion - AI Tools and Community Reporting - The Balance of Technology and Truth

Originally published at:

In our next community media discussion, we will be looking at how AI tools can help community media makers tell stories and report on things that are relevant to their communities. We’ll be looking at examples of different AI tools that are freely available, and we’ll be asking if they can benefit the stories that community reporters tell, by improving their relevance to people living in specific places and under specific circumstances, rather than just improving a technical management process. If community reporters focus on the shared stories and lived experiences of people as we are embedded and related to our communities, then we will gain. However, if we only use these tools to make the process of spreading misinformation, or driving impressions with ‘clickbait’, then we will lose out.

Join us to discuss how community communications and community sensemaking can change society for the better by opening up our media to greater diversity, inclusivity, participation and civic engagement.

Join our regular Tuesday discussion by signing up on Patreon for as little as £1 per month.

AI tools are increasingly being used in journalism and news reporting, providing immense opportunities for writing and research, particularly in the realm of community news and community reporting. With technology advancing at a bewildering pace, tools that were once available only to well-funded news organisations are now accessible to smaller community-based outlets. Many of these tools are subscription-based and are designed to automate the content creation process, leading to a mechanised production of content that raises ethical concerns.

For community media makers and reporters, we are faced with the challenge of navigating this seemingly ever-evolving landscape of digital media, and we find ourselves at an interesting crossroads. On one side, there is the accelerating development of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, which promise unprecedented levels of efficiency and productivity. On the other side, there is the noble tradition of community news and community reporting, which values truth, objectivity, verifiability, and authenticity above all else. Here at Decentered Media, we’re exploring how these two seemingly disparate worlds intersect.

The digital revolution continues to present huge challenges, on the one hand, and exciting opportunities for public interest journalism in the UK, on the other. Traditional newspaper business models, for example, have been altered beyond recognition by the new media economy, while a new wave of high-quality journalism is emerging from the public interest news sector, such as the Great Central Gazette in Leicester, the Bristol Cable, and the Manchester Meteor.

These organisations, which include a mixture of start-ups and well-established newspapers, magazines, and websites, may be small businesses, but they have the potential to make an impact in their local communities, and are increasingly recognised as part of an alternative global movement away from billionaire-controlled industrial news producers. Their journalism is defined by a public purpose, which is to provide information and tell stories that lead to better civic engagement and accountability, while giving a voice to people who were previously voiceless. Telling stories that once went unheard, and providing information that the public would not otherwise receive.

AI tools for writing and research have been steadily gaining traction within the news industries, and now are becoming more readily available to an ever-widening audience. Many of these tools are subscription-based, and are designed to automate the content creation process. They offer features such as natural language generation, sentiment analysis, summarisation, and more. These tools can process vast amounts of information in seconds, freeing up journalists to focus on other aspects of their work.

However, as with any powerful tool, the rise of AI in community news production brings with it ethical concerns. The primary concern is the potential for these tools to become conduits for misinformation if not used and applied responsibly. The automated production of content has the potential to generate news at an unprecedented pace, but without the crucial element of human discernment and judgement, this could lead to a proliferation of inaccuracies and false narratives.

This is why the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) is working directly with the public and news publishers to promote citizenship, community development, and high ethical standards of journalism. Their vision is to strengthen the capacity of the public interest news sector to provide benefit to the public and usher in a new era of high-quality and accountable journalism that serves the public interest.

If community reporting is to take advantage of these AI tools, we must retain a commitment to truthfulness, objectivity, verifiability, and authenticity. These core journalistic values are the cornerstone of the Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) at Cardiff University. The Centre supports new forms of local digital journalism and is exploring new, sustainable models for news.  The question is, what sort of training and instruction will news creators and community media makers need in the future?

For non-professionals and community media makers, who work in a DIY and grassroots community-focussed manners, these AI tools can help people to overcome barriers, such as improving the grammar and styling of written content, and finding references that support any assertions that are made in a story. However, they also represent a barrier for many people who do not have the critical investigation skills and experience, and the data literacies, to successfully navigate a world of seemingly endless information.

These tools also present the risk that we get sucked in to only using online resources, and as community reporters we never get away from our computers, tablets and smartphones, and actually take time to speak with people, or visit the places in our neighbourhoods where real life happens. To make AI work effectively for community reporting, we need to continually reconsider just what do we mean by news-gathering techniques; awareness of legal and ethical frameworks; using digital platforms and social media; and developing community and content strategies.

The C4CJ also acknowledges the big challenges that local journalism in the UK is facing, such as the rise of the internet hitting traditional business models of print journalism hard, declining readership and advertising revenues, fewer opportunities for journalists because of cost-cutting, and declining trust in journalism because of recent high-profile scandals. However, and despite these challenges, many advocates for community-driven models of news retain a belief in the value of good journalism that is dedicated to shaping the future of local citizenship and community development, and are working to nurture forms of news reporting that retain a spirit of social idealism while addressing practical realities of producing meaningful content.

In essence, the ethical use of AI in community reporting is a balancing act. On one hand, these tools can enhance productivity and allow journalists to handle larger volumes of data. On the one hand, there is the risk that we become over-reliant on using AI, and we risk compromising the very principles that underpin community news: truthfulness, objectivity, verifiability, and authenticity. While on the other hand, we can fail to grasp an opportunity to make the community reporting process more inclusive and representative by taking advantage of the positive things that AI has to offer, such as improved research management, automating formulaic processes, and so on.

The solution? Probably a hybrid approach in which AI tools are used to augment human intelligence, not replace it. AI can handle the heavy lifting of data collection and initial analysis, while human journalists can focus on interpreting the data, cross-checking facts, and crafting compelling narratives that resonate with the community.

In this scenario, AI is not a threat to authentic community reporting but rather an ally, a tool that can help community journalists keep pace with the digital age. Yet, it’s crucial to remember that AI is just that – a tool. It is not an infallible oracle, but a machine that learns from the data it’s fed. As such, it’s the responsibility of the community reporters and the media groups they are part of to use these tools responsibly, ensuring that they are used ethically and reliably.

If you believe, like me, that community news creators should indeed take advantage of the potential benefits offered by AI tools, then we also need to consider and account for the risks that AI might also bring. However, as long as we retain a strong commitment to the values of truthfulness, objectivity, verifiability, and authenticity, then we can determine a path forward. In other words, we must ensure that as we embrace the future, we don’t lose sight of the principles that have always guided us.

With the right approach, AI tools can enhance community reporting, making it more efficient, comprehensive, and timely. But the heart of community news – the human connection, the passion for truth, the commitment to accountability – must always remain at the centre of what we do. The future of community news lies not in the hands of AI, but in the hands of those who use it.

As AI tools for writing and research become more accessible to community news outlets, it is essential to maintain the social and civic values of truthfulness, objectivity, verifiability, and authenticity. These tools can enhance and democratise the process of news creation, but they must be used responsibly and ethically. It is up to the current and future generations of community reporters to navigate this digital landscape, striking a balance between utilising AI’s capabilities and preserving the integrity of journalism.

Non-professional and DIY community reporting is guided by certain principles and values. Here are some relevant points from the search results:

Community-Based Accountability: This is a locally developed system of evidence of student learning, strategic and customized form of measuring student achievement, and rigorous descriptive reporting to parents and community members.

Engage Community Members: Engage people from across all parts of society in the development of a strong shared vision, inform and educate the public about your project and its construction, and bring to life the project.

Core Values: The principles and priorities that guide an organisation’s actions must be set and maintained by people within our communities, and not for them by people from outside. These civic engagement values represent the foundational commitments and deeply held beliefs that drive community reporting’s culture. Such as high standards, inclusivity, accountability, and transparency.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Embracing these organisational values is a way to intentionally make space for positive outcomes to flourish, whether in direct services or in the non-profit capacity-building or public policy spheres. Non-profits should examine and articulate their values and be guided by them.

Community: “Community” means all who are interested in and affected by the quality of news production and distribution, and not just the professionals who work in public institutions, social organisations or other institutional organisations. This is about people speaking with other people.

Community Engagement: Effective community engagement involves looking at existing community expertise and knowledge, and advancing media access and equity. The platforms for media making have to be open and accessible, and they must be driven by the principles of participation, accountability, and equality.