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Global skepticism towards AI-powered newsrooms: Challenges and audience concerns

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  • A significant portion of global audiences is uncomfortable with AI-generated news, particularly for sensitive topics like politics.
  • There is a growing concern about false news content online, with notable increases in countries like South Africa and the U.S.
  • Newsrooms continue to struggle with generating revenue from online news subscriptions, with many subscribers paying discounted rates.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into news production has been a double-edged sword for newsrooms worldwide. While AI offers the potential to streamline operations and enhance efficiency, it also brings a wave of skepticism and concern among global audiences. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism's latest Digital News Report sheds light on these challenges, revealing a complex landscape for news organizations.

According to the report, which surveyed nearly 100,000 people across 47 countries, there is a significant level of discomfort with AI-generated news content. In the United States, 52% of respondents expressed unease, while in the United Kingdom, this figure rose to 63%. Nic Newman, senior research associate at the Reuters Institute and lead author of the report, noted, "It was surprising to see the level of suspicion. People broadly had fears about what might happen to content reliability and trust."

One of the primary concerns is the potential for misinformation. The report found that 59% of respondents were worried about false news content online, a three percentage point increase from the previous year. This concern was particularly pronounced in countries like South Africa and the United States, where 81% and 72% of respondents, respectively, expressed worry, especially in the context of upcoming elections.

The reluctance to embrace AI-generated news is not the only challenge facing newsrooms. The report also highlights a persistent issue with revenue generation. Despite some growth during the pandemic, only 17% of respondents across 20 countries reported paying for online news, a figure that has remained stagnant for the past three years. Furthermore, a significant proportion of news subscribers in the U.S. are paying discounted rates due to trials or promotions, with 46% paying less than the full price for their subscriptions.

In addition to these challenges, the rise of news influencers on platforms like TikTok is reshaping how audiences consume news. The report found that 57% of TikTok users who use the app for news primarily follow individual personalities, compared to 34% who follow journalists or news brands. This shift underscores the need for newsrooms to build direct relationships with their audiences and strategically use platforms to connect with harder-to-reach demographics, such as younger audiences.

One notable example is Vitus "V" Spehar, a TikTok creator with 3.1 million followers. Spehar has gained popularity for their unique style of delivering top headlines while lying on the floor under their desk, offering a more gentle perspective on current events. This approach contrasts sharply with traditional news anchors and highlights the evolving landscape of news consumption.

The report also surveyed individuals in the U.S., UK, France, Argentina, and Brazil, asking them to name up to three mainstream or alternative accounts they follow for news. The top 10 individuals cited by U.S. respondents are primarily known for political commentary rather than original newsgathering, including figures like Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and David Pakman.

As newsrooms navigate these challenges, the integration of AI in news production remains a contentious issue. While AI can undoubtedly enhance efficiency and streamline operations, the skepticism and concerns about content reliability and trust cannot be ignored. News organizations must find a balance between leveraging AI's capabilities and maintaining the trust and confidence of their audiences.

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