In the last two decades, the media industry has navigated major transitions, with the embedding and rise of mobile — the prioritising of digital platforms becoming paramount.
This journey has seen many triumphs, but also a multitude of failed attempts. A central issue has been treating “newsroom convergence” (later termed “digital transformation”) as a compartmentalised challenge affecting only specific facets of newsroom organisation, such as technologies or workflows.
Rewind to the 1990s: Small online departments emerged, spearheaded by tech-savvy enthusiasts. Their modus operandi was simple: repurpose content from print publications to an online presence; this was basically a Web site back then.
Fast forward through the 2000s and 2010s: Digitalisation projects were still often set up with a myopic perspective, lacking a coherent, long-term vision or strategy. Common starting points included ambitions like acquiring a new content management system ([CMS] often purchased from print system vendors, who “bolted” on the digital publishing part), venturing into pointless news video experiments trying to copy broadcast, and just ordering journalists to cater to both print and digital mediums to economise.
Are we repeating mistakes?
Now, as we stand in 2023 amidst the prolific advent of AI and large-language models, there’s a looming threat of history repeating itself. The absence of a holistic vision and strategic plan, coupled with under-investment and a tendency to under-estimate the impact of the new technologies, hinders the effective utilisation of AI.
There’s a risk of relegating AI to a specialised “nerd” corner that should not affect the “quality journalism” part of the newsroom. Or, newsrooms are adopting a wait-and-see approach, observing competitors from the sidelines. Such missteps, reminiscent of past decades, threaten to again prolong the transition into a new technological era.
But, contrasted with 20 years ago, the luxury of time is no longer on our side. The rapid technological advancements and the astonishing progress in tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney are breathtaking. The market is constantly flooded with new tools, outpacing by far the evolution of consumer devices such as smartphones and Internet infrastructures.
An urgent call to action
For media organisations today, waiting for conducive external factors like faster Internet connections or widespread digital device penetration is obsolete. The infrastructure is here.
There is an urgent call to action, intensified by financial pressures due to declining print circulations and revenues. The shifting audience dynamics, characterised by news avoidance and trust deficiencies, further amplify this urgency to think hard and act quickly.
In this turbulent landscape, passive strategies — waiting, watching, and hesitating — are not viable. The media industry must proactively embrace AI, decipher its applications, and harness its potential to enhance existing operations and unlock novel opportunities.
As articulated by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, AI represents “the biggest technological shift we will witness in our lifetimes,” potentially surpassing even the Internet’s monumental impact.
As industry stewards, our role is not merely to adapt to this shift but to actively shape its trajectory, ensuring that we are architects of this new change, not mere subjects — and perhaps again victims — of these technological reconfigurations.