Need to Know: May 17, 2023


You might have heard: Disinformation researchers raise alarms about A.I. chatbots (The New York Times) 

But did you know: CEO behind ChatGPT warns Congress AI could cause ‘harm to the world’ (The Washington Post)

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told senators Tuesday that AI technology could cause “significant harm to the world” and urged lawmakers to work with him on regulations to address worries that AI could spread “one-on-one interactive disinformation” and emotional manipulation. In response to questions about whether AI would scrape content from local news organizations without compensating them, he said that it is “critically important” that AI be used to preserve local news but did not offer details. “If there are things that we can do to help local news, we would certainly like to,” he said, according to the Washington Post’s live blog of the hearing.

+  Noted: News outlets oppose Trump’s bid to expunge special grand jury report (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution);  Dow Jones and Columbia Journalism School launch HBCU Media Collective (Dow Jones)


Trust tip: Build trust while covering rural communities (Trusting News) 

Journalists need to earn the right to tell the stories of rural communities by showing that they are committed to understanding where those stories are coming from, writes Trusting News’ Joy Mayer. She recently participated in a webinar for alumni of the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program, hosted by API, and came away with three ways journalists can win rural communities’ trust. Among them: recognize that you’re part of “the media” even if you work for a local news organization. When you ask for an interview, explain what kind of story you’re trying to tell and how you’ll work to get it right. 

How local opinion sections can transform into public forums: Insights from public deliberation

The Coloradoan relaunched its opinion page with the help of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation, putting its practices to work to build quality engagements with the community on local issues and help solve difficult problems. Martín Carcasson, founder of the center, writes that in the long term, the university-local media collaboration could become a model for other communities. His essay is part of API’s effort to help local news organizations reimagine their opinion journalism in ways that promote healthier civic discourse. 


Finding order in a thicket of nonprofit data (The New York Times)

New York Times investigative reporter David Fahrenthold recently asked the paper’s data team to help him sort submissions to the IRS from nonprofit organizations. The problem? The data was contained in 15,851 pages of PDFs, making it difficult to organize, search and find patterns. Tiff Fehr, a Times staff engineer and project editor on the interactive news team, explains how the work got done: she wrote code to extract more than 136,000 transactions over nine years, then used pivot tables to organize the data. It’s one way, she writes, that data reporting resembles “forensic accounting” and helps journalists expose financial crimes like fraud or Ponzi schemes. 


Cable-style news bundles are spreading across Europe (International News Media Association)

Publishers in five European markets have introduced subscription bundles that include national and local news, magazines, podcasts, video, and other benefits, writes Greg Piechota, researcher-in-residence for INMA. “If this model works, the innovation will likely spread globally,” Piechota says, explaining that the bundles offer a way for companies to expand their subscriber base by catering to diverse consumer preferences. 


Active-duty journalism: Daniel Johnson uses his research on mental health in the military to effect policy change at the national level (University of North Carolina)

Daniel Johnson is a PhD student at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media whose writing on post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates among soldiers returning from war has appeared in national publications. His work has influenced Congress. His path to that success was not an easy one, though: He served in the Army himself, and was deployed to Iraq where he witnessed first-hand the devastating aspects of the conflict. He volunteered to be his unit’s journalist, not knowing much about the craft. “I learned in the moment,” he says. “I learned the power and importance of words and their effect on the world.”


Vice is going bankrupt, BuzzFeed News is dead. What does it mean? (The Guardian)

BuzzFeed and other publications made a big bet that social media could be major distribution channels for their content without fully realizing that those platforms would “siphon off the digital-ad dollars,” writes media analyst Margaret Sullivan. The digital revolution that started with the internet is still ongoing, so it’s hard to know which model will win out, she says, but the main takeaway so far is that there is “no single solution,” but rather one that relies on diversified revenue streams. She pointed to places that have had success with various models — philanthropy, tight paywalls, memberships and other funding sources — as part of that mix.