From Parchment to Pixels: How an Ancient Inkwell Embraces the Algorithm Age

Mukul Rana
4 Min Read

On October 7, 1779, a disgruntled reader penned a letter to Berrow’s Worcester Journal. “To the printer,” the reader wrote, “I take the liberty of informing you and the public that the account of a melancholy accident happening to a poor man at Evesham, which was inserted in your last paper, is utterly devoid of foundation.”

The reported incident of a man falling into a vat of boiling ale, it turned out, was greatly exaggerated, published based on an anonymous tip. However, the journal, laying claim to being the oldest surviving newspaper globally, now introduces a cutting-edge approach to assist reporters in verifying facts: artificial intelligence.

First published in 1690 and currently a free sheet featuring content from the Worcester News, the journal is among several publications under the umbrella of the UK’s second-largest regional news publisher employing “AI-assisted” journalists for local news coverage.

Newsquest, publisher of over 200 titles, including the Glasgow Herald, the Brighton and Hove Argus, and the Lancashire Telegraph, has enlisted eight “AI-assisted” reporters across various newsrooms in the past year.

These AI reporters utilize an in-house copywriting tool based on ChatGPT technology, a sophisticated chatbotdrawing information from internet text. Reporters input essential “trusted content,” such as minutes from a local council planning committee, which the tool transforms into concise news reports in the publisher’s style.

Stephanie Preece, the Worcester News editor, notes that while AI can’t be present at the scene of an incident or engage in personal interactions, it liberates reporters to focus on such aspects. She emphasizes embracing AI’s presence rather than shying away from it.

Preece clarifies that Newsquest’s tool doesn’t generate content autonomously—a trained journalist inputs information, subject to editing and adjustments by a news editor. This approach aims to avoid the inaccuracies associated with ChatGPT.

Newsquest’s CEO, Henry Faure Walker, cites the invaluable role of AI assistance during a critical news event in Hexham Courant, emphasizing its ability to cover routine content and allow human reporters to delve into investigative work.

Jody Doherty-Cove, Head of Editorial AI at Newsquest, acknowledges concerns about AI in journalism but assures multiple safeguards, including extensive training and a new code of conduct.

Highlighting a recent AI-generated freedom of information request, Doherty-Cove illustrates a collaborative process where a reporter provided the idea, and AI generated the letter, finding the appropriate email address for sending it.

He anticipates widespread acceptance of AI as a newsroom tool in the future, comparing it to the now-accepted role of the internet in supporting journalists.

While media organizations like the Guardian have outlined principles for cautious AI use, the industry faces challenges, with the New York Times suing OpenAI and Microsoft over alleged unauthorized use of journalistic content.

Local reporters, facing challenges of understaffing and overextension, are compelled to adapt. The decline in local newspapers prompts the need for innovation, with AI emerging as a tool to support journalistic endeavors.

In this evolving landscape, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, with its rich history, must embrace reinvention to stay relevant. Preece emphasizes the role of newspaper editors as temporary guardians, advocating for adaptation to change and alignment with the evolving world.

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