In this episode, we explore the intersection of artificial intelligence and journalism with Dan Grech, a Pulitzer-winning former journalist and news director who has transitioned into the world of marketing and AI. Grech shares his unique perspective on the potential of AI to transform storytelling, marketing, and more, while also discussing the emotional, personal, and ethical implications of his transition from journalism to business. The conversation delves into the potential impacts of AI on journalism and local news, the unique value that human intelligence provides, and the transformative potential of AI.
(03:57) – Dan’s journey from journalism to business and AI
(13:31) – The destructive way journalists talk about business roles
(18:28) – The epochal change presented by generative AI
(31:03) – AI’s impact on the 5 pillars of journalism
(35:09) – AI’s implications for intellectual property and curation
(41:18) – AI’s implications for the business models of journalism
(46:10) – Using AI in newsrooms
Listen to the episode here:
- BizHack’s “AI for Marketing and Sales” course
- Center for Collaborative Journalism
- “Schweddy Balls” SNL skit
- Stable Diffusion
- Planet Money makes an episode using AI
- The Week
- Local News Matters: web, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
- Colorado Press Association: web, Twitter, Facebook
- Tim Regan-Porter: bio, Twitter
Dan Grech is the founder and lead instructor of BizHack Academy, which provides digital marketing training to corporations and marketing executives businesses across South Florida. He was the News Director at WLRN (Miami’s NPR station) and was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at The Miami Herald. He co-hosted Miami’s first podcast, Under the Sun.
He’s worked at The Washington Post, Marketplace and PBS’s Nightly Business Report. He’s also worked as the head of digital marketing at two software startups and the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned energy company. Dan is an active member of the South Florida startup ecosystem, where he’s mentored companies at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, Babson College’s WIN Lab, StartUP FIU, The Idea Center at Miami Dade College, the Innovation Hub at Broward College, the Watson Institute at Lynn University and the Inter American Development Bank. He’s taught at top universities including Princeton, Columbia and University of Miami.
Dan is a graduate of Princeton University and has a Masters degree in storytelling from FIU and journalism from Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Argentina. He’s a father of two, his wife Gretchen Beesing is the CEO of Catalyst Miami, and his favorite color is purple.
What is the unique value that human intelligence provides that AI cannot? And let's leverage AI for the stuff that AI does better than we can, and then identify what is human intelligence, human contributions, and work as a partnership. And if we do that, we'll be much more efficient, we'll be able to get a lot more done, and we'll carve a place that only humans can fill. If a journalist working for a publication walks up to their boss and says, is AI going to put me out of a job? My answer to them would be no, because the foundation, probably the single highest value of what you do is gathering human intelligence, intelligence that's not written down anywhere. AI can't do that.
Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. In each episode, I sit down with guests from newsrooms and others in the local news ecosystem to highlight the innovative work of local newsrooms and those that support them, as well as the crucial questions they face.
This episode, we're venturing into a topic that's reshaping our world and has significant implications for journalism: artificial intelligence, and more specifically, generative AI.
My guest today is my friend, Dan Grech, a Pulitzer-winning former journalist and news director who has navigated his own path into the world of business and AI. We'll touch on Dan's professional transition, discussing the emotional, personal, and ethical implications of moving from journalism to what some might call “the dark side” – the world of business. It's a conversation that invites us to reconsider how we perceive and value different professions.
From there, we'll delve into the potential of AI to influence storytelling, marketing, and much more. We'll discuss its potential impacts on journalism and local news, and consider the changes it could usher in.
This episode is the first in a series with Dan and with experts and practitioners from many different arenas where we'll explore the opportunities and challenges that AI presents for journalism. In some ways, we only skim the surface of some very deep waters. I asked ChatGPT for suggested quotes for cold opens, and it actually provided some great imaginary quotes—which it helpfully acknowledged as imaginary—that captured much of what we cover and where we want to go in the future. Here are is a mashed-up and lightly edited version of those quotes:
The rise of AI is as significant as the advent of the internet or even electricity. It's reshaping our world, and transforming every industry. Journalism is part of that transformation. It's a tool that can help us uncover stories hidden in vast amounts of data, engage with our audiences in new ways, and even challenge our assumptions about what's possible in journalism. But as with any powerful tool, it comes with responsibilities. We must approach it with caution, understanding its potential impacts and ensuring we use it ethically and responsibly.
As journalists, we're in the business of truth. And AI, with its ability to analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns, can be a powerful ally in that mission. The integration of AI in journalism is not just about efficiency or productivity. It's about enhancing our ability to tell stories, to uncover truths, and to engage with our audiences in meaningful ways. But we need to tread carefully, aware of the potential shortcomings, pitfalls and ethical implications of this tool
Well said, virtual Dan and Tim.
So, whether you're a journalist, a technologist, or just someone curious about the future of news and AI, this episode has something for you. Join me as I navigate these complex topics with Dan Grech.
If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, never miss an episode by signing up for our newsletter at lnmpod.com.
Dan’s journey from journalism to business and AI
So let's start. I've talked a little bit about your background in the intro and your bio’s up on the website, but I want to give people a little more context for how you came to marketing and AI through journalism. So prior to going to the dark side, you were news director at WLRN. And that's actually where you and I met a little over a decade ago when I started the center for collaborative Journalism, Eric Newton at the Knight Foundation said, I think one of the first people you need to meet is Dan because he's doing this really interesting collaboration between WLRN and the Miami Herald. Your newsroom was physically in their newsroom and you were doing some interesting things. Just tell us a little bit about what that project was and how that informed what you do.
Now, we can talk about this if you want, but I have a little bit of a pet peeve about calling it the dark side. And the reason why is because I actually am finding more fulfillment in the work I do post journalism than I did as a journalist. So happy to talk about why that is and why I think the dark side is a limiting belief that leads a lot of journalists to stick in a bad profession for them and that there are many very rewarding and purpose driven paths outside of journalism that actually, especially given where the industry is, are actually more fulfilling and actually make the world a better place. But to answer your question, I was the news director of this extraordinary experiment that is essentially the precursor of what New York Times Audio has become, which is we the local NPR station WLRN were embedded in the Miami Herald newsroom. And we're essentially a department of the newsroom run by the managing editor. At the time, it was Rick Hirsch, really a brilliant managing editor. And this partnership was conceived of by a kind of visionary general manager named John LaBonia. And basically it came out of a point of weakness. WLRN is in the 13th largest media market in South Florida. It runs from basically West Palm Beach all the way down to Key West. Huge media market. And when I was a young reporter at the, it was I would listen as I drove to work to my articles being read on the radio without attribution. So WLRN would rip and read is what they used to say. They would literally like their news report was reading my and other reporters articles from the Miami Herald on the air without attributing. Know, John, like the GM at WRN recognized the more honest thing to do is call it WLRN Miami Herald News and do that with a little bit more integrity and actually admit that we weren't really generating any original news reporting. We were just kind of working off of stuff the Miami Herald did. So we kind of took that and just ran with that idea and under my leadership, just blew it out. We had major investigative reports that were airing as companions to Miami Herald reports, but also airing on NPR National. We won all sorts of in my last year. There are more than 100 local, regional, and national awards for our work. And over the course of, gosh, like three years, went from one of the worst member stations in the country to one of the best. And that work ruffled a lot of feathers. I ended up getting fired from the job. We can talk about that too, if you're interested. But the long story short is my legacy lived on. Last year, WRN was named the best NPR member station in the country, and the leadership that I put in place was the leadership that took them to that place. So I'm very proud of that and the legacy I had. And our work caught the attention of the Knight Foundation and Eric Newton. And Eric Newton introduced us because you were basically embarking on a similar experiment at Mercer University, incorporating a student newsroom into a joint partnership with a radio station, a newspaper, and eventually a TV station as well. So you guys were taking it just to the next level. And I've actually been Dan advisory board member for more than a decade now of the Mercer CCJ Mercer Center for Collaborative Journalism. And I remember that lunch we had together with Eric Newton all those years ago was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And it's great to be back here with you.
Great to have you. And you've done a lot of reporting yourself. You had a lot of pieces on NPR's Marketplace, or I guess that's American Public Media.
That's right. American Public Media. I actually had 851 pieces. And the reason why I know that number is because they counted. And so I counted too. One of my favorite stories from JJ. Yore, the then executive director of American Public Media's Marketplace, is he said, dan, we do not have quotas here at Marketplace. Reporters produce the stories when they're ready to produce. In fact, just to show you that we don't have quotas, I just want to show you this spreadsheet where we track every spot and feature story that every reporter on our staff does. Now, you'll notice that there's no one who's producing less than twelve stories a month, but that's not because we have a quota. Do you understand what I'm saying? And I said, yes, JJ, I understand exactly what you're saying. And I started counting my stories, and I made sure I never had less than twelve stories a month. And I can remember on the 30th of a month, I would literally be begging our assignment editor to give me two story assignments because I needed to get to the minimum quota or I was going to get fired. And they would be like, Dan, it's okay. We don't need you. I'm like, no, dude, I really need this. Can you please do me a favor? And I'll get like, really agitated, and they'd be like, okay, okay, here's two story assignments. You're being weird. But they didn't really understand why I was doing it because we didn't have quotas. One other quick story about JJ. Since JJ. I hope you listen to this and I love you. When I was negotiating strategy, my salary there, he know, dan, I can't meet your salary request as reasonable as it is, because here at Marketplace, we practice equality of oppression. And I'm like, okay, all right, I got it. So it's kind of a take it or leave it. It was a great line. It's a shitty thing to do to people, but as a result, I got severely underpaid for my work.
Before we leave your time in journalism, tell the audience the story of LeBron James coming to Miami and what you did.
So another thing that we share is we're kind of misfits for journalism, and we're kind of like business people who happen to love journalism and be journalists. And part of that is we would come up with these completely hairbrained ideas that worked, but also kind of pissed everyone in the newsroom off. So LeBron James announced he's taking his talents to South Beach, and it's the biggest news story in five years in Miami. And I am the news director of Know, the home of Schweddy Balls and the kind of over-precious discussion of thoughtful topics. We're not like ESPN Radio. So how do I cover the biggest news story in my community for an audience of NPR listeners and actually took that question to a community brainstorming session and with them came up with this idea that, well, why don't we combine sports and LeBron James and this news story of him coming to Miami with poetry? So we created the LeBron's James Poetry Contest. We announced it on a Friday. We were going to just do it for a week. His first game was like the following Tuesday. So like, ten days later anyway, it went viral. We had more than 1000 poetry submissions. We were covered on NPR, ESPN, The New Yorker, we had more than 30 states and multiple countries submitting. And then we had Dan Levitar, the great ESPN commentator and Miami Herald columnist who adjudicated the winner. We even got LeBron to comment on the poetry contest. He was like, I support all efforts to improve reader readiness and literacy. So we even had a quote from LeBron. The whole thing was awesome. And yeah, it became the foundation, like the first experiment in a series of news as a shared experience, interactive things that we did, including we gave a guy a webcam. This is in the 2010, we gave a guy a webcam and he went on a canoe trip in all the canals in South Florida. And live reported on radio and Twitter and through live stream his experience of going through the canals of South Florida. We did an entirely crowdsourced town hall meeting and as a result of all this work, ended up winning a national award as the most innovative radio station in the country. So from very small, humble beginnings, we really became a national leader in how to really engage audiences and build community around news.
The destructive way journalists talk about business roles
And for those too young to get the “Schweddy Balls” reference, we'll have a link to this and I'll skip in the show notes. So let's move past your time in journalism quickly get to AI, which is the theme of this episode. And yes, my reference to the dark side was very facetious. As you know, my background was in economics. I consider myself as much of an entrepreneur as a journalist.
I'm going to just go out of my soapbox for a sec. Language matters. And we put ourselves into a box when we say the dark side. And we hate on each other as ex-journalists when we leave journalism because there's sort of this mythology preciousness that the only way to make an honorable living is as a journalist. The truth of the matter is much of the journalism that's being today is dishonorable, not because of the journalists, but because of their ownership. And much of the work that's being done in the business community is highly purpose driven and makes the world a better place. And so when we tell ourselves as journalists the story that's not true and provide the limiting belief that there is no place for us that is honorable, where we're not selling our soul, then the quote dark side, it's just really hard. And there was a lot of self hatred, honestly, that happened in my transition out of journalism where I would literally say, I'm not living my values and it took me a lot of time to find my way. And I think part of the problem was the 15 years of inculcation that the only way to make an honorable living is as a journalist. I kind of have a pet peeve about it because these stories we tell ourselves and tell to each other are hurting ourselves and hurting each other and we should stop even facetiously and I love you Tim. I knew you were joking because I know you're also a business guy like me, but I have found more meaningful work in my post journalism career than I found in my journalism career.
Well taken. We don't talk about that enough and I think it's worth digging into some, and I got to say some of the most nuanced and thoughtful conversations I've had in journalism have been with people on the business side. Sales directors, publishers, executives who sometimes are appalled at the gallows humor in the newsroom. And yet the newsroom wants to pretend like it's above it all sometimes.
And I'll give a really concrete example of this like the New York Times. First of all, one of the know, I'm a subscriber. I'm addicted to their audio know. Michael Barbaro and I were junior reporters of the Miami Herald together and look what he's helped build. They are now going with their new audio app and going head to head with NPR. But the New York Times, if you've ever spoken to someone who's worked on the business side of the New York Times, they are disrespected, they're denigrated. Their work is constantly challenged by the egotism and arrogance of the newsroom. And as a result, the New York Times is a way weaker business than it should be. And it's because they are on the dark side, because there's this glass wall that they're on the other side of and journalists don't want to bother understanding the business of news and they denigrate the work that those folks are doing to put food on their plate. And the truth of the matter is, the New York Times would be way further ahead of where they are. They would never have had to borrow money from a to. They would have had to mortgage their building and sell it to the highest bidder and then become a tenant of their own property if they had treated their business side better. And this is one of the core reasons why journalism is in the state it's in, is because of this mythology that the business side is the dark side. We're all working towards the same purpose. So anyway, I think what's really clearly required is an integration of doing good and making money. And that has been completely absent. We have very few models outside of really good local news and kind of like nonprofit news and the NPR investigative journalism that's even sustainable. In the last couple of weeks we've saw Vice news enter chapter eleven. We saw BuzzFeed News go away. The most exciting, innovative digital companies are gone. This idea of local news matters, this podcast at its very core is really about forging a financial path forward for one of the most endangered segments of our news ecosystem, which is local reporting.
The epochal change presented by generative AI
Which brings us to the topic. And so this will be probably the first of many podcasts you and I will do, and first of many on AI. So when you left journalism, you started working with companies to help them on the marketing front. You started a business to help small and mid sized businesses do effective marketing. And earlier this year, you launched a course on AI for sales and marketing that the mayor's office there in Miami helped fund. I sat through that course. It was seven weeks, hour and a half long get, really great guest speakers. You used your journalism background to weave a story together that I think was really compelling as one of the best webinars I've seen. We're doing a short version of it here in Colorado next week. And so that's why I have you on to talk about everything that AI is going to change, all the possibilities, the range of things AI could change for journalism and local news. And so let's start big picture. So I don't want to go into a dissection of what AI is. Chat GPT can give you a very good summary if you want to go there. They're all over the place. The excitement and the buzz that AI has gotten recently is specifically around generative AI, AI that will create new content, textual, video, photo, audio, et cetera. And what's been fascinating to me, and tell me if you see this too, is the responses people have had and how embedded sort of our default positioning to life comes through. So some people jump on the hype cycle, some are quick to discount it as a hype cycle, some are really quick to say all the things it can't do and to reassure themselves that it could never do this, that humans can do. We're so unique. And then others are worried about killer robots. I think there's a grain of truth in all of those positions, but it seems like a lot of times we come at it from those default positions. And so I want to kind of sort through all of those biases and then quickly get to, well, what do we do with it as journalists? How can we actually leverage this and be prepared for a future? And I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that AI is as fundamental a change in how we live, as humans, as the Internet was, maybe as electricity. Some have compared this new age to the industrial age in terms of how it's going to change things. Is that hype, you think, or do you think it's going to be that fundamental of a transition?
I think it's on par with those I think it's as epochal as the invention of the Internet, the invention of the graphical user interface, arguably the invention of the printing press and electricity. And don't take my word for it, that's what Bill Gates said. Bill Gates said that there's only been two technologies in his life that have stopped him in his tracks, and the first was the invention of the graphical user interface. And the second was what he saw in AI. So I don't think that's hype. What I do think the hype starts coming in with the doomsday scenarios. And it's not that that's not possible. I think it's self interested. So let me explain. Like two weeks ago, the you know, the head of OpenAI, which created Chetcheept, whose major investor is Microsoft, who testified a couple weeks earlier on to Capitol Hill, put out through the center of AI safety a statement that basically said in summary, AI should be treated with the same level of care as humanity ending technologies such, you know, events such as pandemics and nuclear war. And I think he's right, actually. I do think it has. Robots can take over and destroy us. There is that potential. The science fiction is becoming reality. There is an aspect of AI where we're creating something that we don't actually understand. But the cynical part of it is they don't want to make the same mistake that Mark Zuckerberg did and said that social media is going to bring us all together. Social media is going to make the world a better place and connect people in ways they've never been connected before. Well, that's true. It also is causing wars and know, bogus presidents elected. It's a tool. Social media is a tool. AI. Is a tool, and it can be used for good or evil. The cynical part is by screaming at the top of their lungs that this could end humanity, they're creating a safety for when they know that Congress isn't going to do anything about it. And so now they can say, we told you, we said it publicly, we said it in front of Congress. Your job to legislate. You haven't done it. So let's go make as much money as possible. And what's happened in the last six months since Chachi BT was released is all the guardrails are off. So much so that Jeffrey Hinton, who for ten years he's called the Godfather of AI, for ten years, he was Google's lead researcher, quit Google so that he could warn of the risks. What that means is that Google for ten years was heeding his advice around being careful, and now they're not. That's why he quit. And he said that the only way for me to talk about this is by not working for them anymore. And, oh, by the way, when he got hired, him and his two researchers, they paid $10 billion. So money isn't an issue. He doesn't need to work for people anymore. That's the kind of nuanced view. And I just want to say one other thing. I think all that's good. It's kind of like above my pay grade, and there's a lot of journalists who love to talk about this because it's exciting and scary. But what I focused all of my attention on and where my expertise lies is in the practicalities of this tool to allow you to do things faster, to allow you to do things with a higher level of quality and to do things that you couldn't otherwise afford to do. And as such, that's really where my focus is and it's like the most exciting thing that's ever happened in my lifetime in marketing.
By the way, one other cynical reading of that is it's also regulatory capture that they're just getting in front of the game and wanting to be at the table setting the rules around AI. So it's not just, hey, we warned you, but it's also, hey, we want to make sure we're taken care of as rules will inevitably be set. But I am glad serious thinkers are worried about some of those bigger implications. And I think for journalists who are covering AI, there is a lot to cover. And I think the subtle ways it will change things, like in the same way that social media created some subtle but profound changes in society, I think that's where if I were a journalist reporting on AI, I would be looking at all of those ways. It's going to upset society and the inequities the biases when people talk about will this take away jobs again? We kind of see people's natural dispositions come forward. Well, all technologies have displaced jobs and we've never suffered net job decline. Well, that does not mean the future will continue on that path. Maybe we are heading towards a Wally like world where technology robots take care of most of our work and we have to figure out what to do with the rest of the time and how to distribute things equitably. But at any rate, certainly there will be some who suffer and some who win in these changes. And so if I were a journalist, I would be looking at those impacts. So anything you want to add to that before we get into the practical aspects?
Yeah. So the invention of the ATM automated a lot of the most important aspects of what a bank teller used to do, basically cashing checks, giving you money, processing payments, et cetera. And now actually our cell phones do it right. Like the ATM has been displaced by the cell phone. And so you would think that there are fewer bank tellers today than there were before the invention of the ATM and you'd be wrong. There are more. So what changed is what bank tellers did, what bank tellers now do is they build relationships with people and businesses to serve them better. And the ATM, back in the day, you would walk into a bank and it was really intimidating if you were like a minority or a poor person. They're behind the glass, behind the cage, the marbled hallway where you can hear your steps clicking as you walk down the know the gringotts kind of feel. Now they're like the ATM paved the way for banks becoming cafes and it allowed for people who were unbanked to become banked, and it allowed for banks to provide a wider array of higher quality services. So there is a version of this story where jobs will be created by AI. So I think it's just really like some jobs are going to go away. Bank tellers do not process checks anymore. They do not hand out, by and large, money to people and good, everybody's better off for it. But my relationship with my banker is a different it's an advisory relationship, it's a higher level relationship. And they're taking the time that they might have spent cashing my check for me, which was a pain in the butt for everybody, and they're doing higher value work. So I think for sure there's going to be that. Now, my wife, who works in social justice, the CEO of a social justice nonprofit, literally, the very first time I ever showed her Chet GPT, just to kind of show her how impressive it is, her literal, immediate reaction was, oh, man, we need a universal basic income, because this is going to put a lot of people out of work. So there are legitimate perspectives and historical analogues in both directions. And the truth of the matter is, we have no idea. But we really need to attend to this. The way I think about this, and this goes right into what we're going to talk about next, is what is the unique value that human intelligence provides that AI cannot? And let's leverage AI for the stuff that AI does better than we can, and then identify what is human intelligence, human contributions, and work as a partnership. And if we do that, we'll be much more efficient, we'll be able to get a lot more done, and we'll carve a place that only humans can fill. And that leads directly, and I think, to our conversation about if a journalist working for a publication walks up to their boss and says, is AI going to put me out of a job? My answer to them would be no. Because the foundation, probably the single highest value of what you do is gathering human intelligence, intelligence that's not written down anywhere. AI can't do that. Now, there are other functions. We have curatorial and editorial functions that AI does better, taking 30 articles and consolidating them into a single rewrite. When I was a young journalist, we had this guy named Marty Merzer. He used to work for the AP, and Marty was the rewrite man. And we would send him our feeds and then he would rewrite them into this beautiful narrative. Marty, it's like Marty GPT like that's what Chat GPT does really, really well, is taking all these inputs and creating a narrative so interestingly. I wouldn't be surprised if we get to a place where Marty Merzer and the role that rewrite role that he played, of taking feeds from all the junior reporters out in the field and. Then turning them into a cohesive narrative, that role might actually go away. That's a senior role, not a junior role. So the impacts are going to be interesting and hard to predict. I think in the short term we're going to continue to be able to charge the same amount of money for work that takes us a lot less time to do and the marketplace is going to take a while to catch up to that. And so in the short term this actually might be a net benefit. We can increase the productivity of our existing staff but charge the same amount for what we do, produce five times as many articles with the same level of staff at the same level of quality, but charge the same amount for our CPMs. That's huge for journalism. So I could actually see kind of a net positive increase in efficiency, increase in revenue. But that's a short term thing because eventually the market will correct and the actual value of that work will correct to the lower number.
AI’s impact on the 5 pillars of journalism
Let's dig into that value a little bit. So you and I were talking earlier and we sort of came up with these five pillars of journalism and how AI impacts them. So can you summarize what those five pillars are? What are the five things of value that journalism provides?
Yeah, so we went over two of them and those two are the ones that journalists, individual working journalists, reporters are the most in charge of reporters and writers. So one is Human Intel Gathering, which AI cannot do, and curation of content, which AI will replace. So those are two of the pillars and then we came up with three other pillars. This is probably an incomplete list. If you guys in the chat or on the social media can add to this list of other unique values journalism organizations provide, we would love it. But these are the other three that we came up with. So you have Human Intel gathering, curation of content. Then you have the Historical Content Archive, the first draft of history, if you will. That's hugely valuable to know how major historical events were received in the moment. And those are archives that are owned by media organizations that unless ChatGPT is cheating, they don't have access to, they need to pay for that. That's copyrighted material and they should not be building their learning models on it. So we can build our own learning models on that. And incredible things are possible. If you took the here we're talking here in Denver today. If we took the archives of the Denver Post and created a Chat GPT that's based on the Denver Post, imagine the value that would provide to schools, to researchers and The Denver Post can monetize that. So that's one unique value. Another, the third pillar, the fourth is trusted brand. The Denver Post has been a pillar of the community for probably close to a century. Or more. It has. In a time where we have very few institutions we trust, news organizations that have retained their integrity are one of the more trusted. That's probably actually not even true. But the bottom line is the brand has value. It's too bad that some of them aren't trusted. They should be because these local news organizations have been there for the community. The best recent example in my lifetime was the role the New Orleans Times Picayun played during Katrina. I've lived through examples during hurricanes of the Miami Herald. We are a central gathering place, like so few other institutions can be for our local communities. And so that trusted brand has huge value. And so brand extensions and monetizing that brand in responsible ways is a huge opportunity. And we see millions of examples of that across the media universe. And then finally creation of community. And this is where NPR really excels. NPR has a trusted brand, but what they also have is a community of listeners. About 10% of the US population listens to NPR and they are a tribe. They are not subscribers, they are members. And they donate money for something they could easily get for free because they feel a responsibility to do so. And they buy chachkas like the Nina totem bag because they love another apparel, because they love saying, hey, I am part of the NPR tribe. And so that creation of community is a unique value that local news organizations can provide and that Chetchypt never will be able to. So of the five pillars, really the only one that's really at risk is the kind of curatorial aspect of news organizations. But the human intel gathering, the archive of content, the trusted brand, and the creation of community, I think all four of those are going to survive AI and should be leaned into to create a path forward for media organizations, local and national.
AI’s implications for intellectual property and curation
Yes, and I think I think that's a very useful way to think about it. And as an individual journalist or as an executive trying to chart the path, I think that's very helpful to think about. And you really want to leverage those areas of value that you can propel yourself into the future with. But I don't want to undersell the potential for disruption that AI has across all industries, but particularly the news industry, which is what we're talking about, that elimination of the value of curation can't be understated, I think, because to a large extent what a newspaper is, what a channel is, is curated content. People come there because they know they're going to find a bundle of information and chat. GPT right now is just the interface for a large language model that will be embedded in lots of different interfaces as we come forward, including Voice. And so, you know, I'm not the first to point out this presents a serious challenge to Google search business. And of course, Google is now incorporating AI into its search results. But if basically going to a website that curates your information about your city becomes obsolete because there's some interface that brings it all to you whenever you want to know it, that's going to be a serious hit to the bottom line of a lot of news organizations, particularly those that are really oriented around page views. And so I think they've got to think about that. I think there's all kinds of intellectual property issues that we've got to consider. As you know, there's a lawsuit. Was that against Stable Diffusion or Midjourney?
It was Stable Diffusion. So Stable Diffusion, when they were building their learning model, cheated and used copyrighted content from Getty and Getty figured it out because their watermark was showing up in images that Stable Diffusion created. So they sued them.
And I don't think we've really dealt with that across content providers, not even just news specific.
But here's what I'll say. Like the Huffington Post is not possible in the era of AI because all the Huffington Post really was, was an aggregator of content. They started adding value later, but they really started out as just kind of a really good, smart aggregation of content. Even like one of my favorite magazines, The Week, which is like a brilliant aggregator of content that my wife and I have subscribed to for years. I think they might be in trouble. The Daily News, the world's largest trafficked website in the world, is really just by and large an aggregator of content. So I'm not at all trying to minimize that this pillar, this is as significant as the invention of Craigslist was to the erosion of classified advertising. This is as significant as the emergence of Google and Facebook advertising was to display ads. This is going to crumble many media organizations and destroy a ton of value that they've created and force them to find other revenue that they don't currently have. So I don't want to minimize that. It's only one five pillars. There's probably more than the five that we came up with. It's just that the other four are values that I don't see a real clear path for AI to destroy. And so you just got to lean into those four. If you're The Week, you're sweating right now. And you better be thinking real hard about how you can leverage that brand and do other stuff with it. Because the value that The Week provides, its value is going to go down and people aren't going to be willing to pay as much money for it because I don't see any way to avoid look, Google is going to build a new service that's going to much closer resemble the week. That's generative AI based. That's going to be better than The Week because it'll be updated minute by minute. And maybe the week makes that. Maybe The Week, because they're good at aggregating, builds that tool and that's one path forward.
The other pillars also, combined with your examples there are interesting and may also be troubling from a societal standpoint, but Huffington Post might survive not because it's curating, but because it has a community and because it has trust among a certain segment. Breitbart might survive because it has trust among a certain segment, as troubling as that might be. But they've created a community and so those brands might actually, they can lean into those aspects.
Yeah. And we're like 25 years into the digital revolution and yet still the majority of the revenue for most newspapers comes from print. There's a long tail to this, right. Most people aren't going to figure out the disruptions happened for another decade, so the week isn't going away, but the week's owners should be really thinking hard about this because otherwise they're going to get displaced eventually. And what they're going to basically do is they're going to just manage a diminishing revenue as people increasingly figure out that there are free ways to get what they're currently paying for that's as good or better than what they're getting.
Well, there will be a long tail. I think the tail is shorter. This curve is steeper than even the Internet was. The adoption of Chat GPT is by far the fastest growing adoption of any technology. I mean, it's basically a vertical line and so people don't have a decade and a half to figure this out. It's going to play out over a decade, but they're going to have to start reacting soon.
Yeah. And the good news is journalists are really good at pivoting fast the business model and adapting very quickly to new technology and developing new and creative revenue streams that didn't exist before. So yeah, I'm worried for journalism. I'm worried for The Week.
AI’s implications for the business models of journalism
Well, and part of the challenge is how do you monetize those other pillars of value? So I agree human intelligence is the thing that I think its value is going to become apparent because while Chat GPT can summarize information, can pull existing information better than a human, it can't generate those investigative reports that rely on human intelligence. It can do a lot of good data analysis, it could supplement things, but it's never going to do that work. And so I think the value of that is going to become apparent. But if the underlying business model is crumbling, how do we monetize that? Who's paying for it?
Yeah, I mean, when I was a news director of all the unique values we provided, I felt, and this was a product of working for an NPR station, that the most valuable of the bunch was the ability to convene community. And so we had a very kind of events based strategy as a result. I still think that that's probably the best path forward for many local news organizations. Unfortunately, just because it's a pillar of value doesn't necessarily mean people want to pay a ton for it. I think the act of gathering human intel is deeply undervalued, and I don't see a model for making a lot of money off of it. I mean, I think the last ten years pretty much proves that the only way you can really make money off that is some very small group of wealthy people who are willing to subsidize it. That's the nonprofit model, whether it's investigative or NPR. But let's be honest, last time I checked, and this is a little dated, they had like 300 journalists and NPR, the Miami Herald, at its height had more than 300. The New York Times has more than 1000. So NPR, though, it has kind of a large place in our minds and gets kind of criticized for being 10% of its funding coming from the government. It's a tiny newsroom, tiny news gathering capability. Most of what NPR produces is actually derivative from other news sources. So yeah, the nonprofit model is not a savior for news, especially not local news. It might fund one reporter sobering thought.
But I think it's important to face that. I was just talking about this with an executive the other day. It's really interesting to contrast what's going on in newsrooms that are shrinking and struggling to figure this out. And then you see a reporter. I just listened to a podcast with a reporter in I think it was Palm Springs, California, who left a chain paper, started a substack covering city council school boards, and he's got more subscribers now than the paper does, and he's hired another reporter to cover a neighboring city. So a small number of people focused and dedicated on the right things can make an impact. Now, his audience is probably smaller than the paper.
But he had more subscribers than the paper nonetheless. Yeah, it's the newsletter model, the most profitable niche, to my understanding, and I might be wrong about this, but one of the most profitable niches in journalism has been the industry newsletter. And Politico was more or less that right. It was this very narrow audience that you hyper served with information and human intelligence they couldn't get anywhere else that helped them make business decisions or political and policy decisions in the case of Politico. But there's a lot of money attached to that as well. A lot of lobbyists subscribe to that. So yeah, I think that's a model that also won't go away. Chat GPT is kind of by definition, it's trained on the Internet, so it's kind of generic information. And so you have to be kind of sophisticated to know what prompts to give it and what information to do, and maybe feed in some of your own custom information to make it actually useful to a niche audience. And so I definitely think there's a path forward for that. And frankly, it could be a lot cheaper for you to do. Industry become an industry niche player, and those organizations are serving audiences whose time is worth more than money. So if you're wealthy enough where you're willing to kind of pay money to save time, there's a saying among entrepreneurs that if you're doing any as a business owner, you don't want to ever do $25 an hour work, because you should just hire someone to do that work and work at a higher level of value. I think there's a huge opportunity there to maybe hyper serve niche interests with really customized information services that are a combination of chat, GPT generated content and human intel gathering. And you can do it way cheaper and provide the same or even better quality of service. So that's a huge opportunity.
Using AI in newsrooms
Talking about some of the stuff you've been digging into, which is all the amazing things it can do. And so whatever organization you're in, really, it doesn't have to be a news organization. How can you use this tool? And I'll start with building on something you were saying earlier. Actually, the bank teller reminded me of the Radio Lab episode. I don't know if you've had a chance to listen to that yet, but they did a pair of episodes just a week or two ago in June where they used AI to generate the episode. So they had it study a white paper about telephone operators who were displaced, had it generate questions for the paper's author. And one of the interesting parts of the episode was the paper's author was complimenting them on the questions. Oh, that's a really good question. And they were like, well, is that just something you saying? And then they got to the end and they got to the question about jobs. And he said, well, your jobs are safe, because AI could never generate such thoughtful questions. And of course, it had generated all the questions. And then they had it generate Robert Kolrich's voice. They had it fool a reporter who couldn't remember if she had done the story. But it sounded very familiar. She couldn't say one way or the other. And then it generated a whole episode with dialogue and storylines and all of that. At any rate, it was pretty phenomenal to see how that piece came together. And it's not going to be producing our podcast, I think, anytime soon. But it's remarkable what it can do. And I've heard a lot of people comfort themselves that AI chat, GPT and other gender of AI pieces cannot be creative. I have found it can be remarkably creative. It can give you all kinds of creative prompts. What has been your experience?
Yeah. So I'm going to give one really concrete use case that I would invite people to try. So when I worked in the newsroom, the newsroom roughly broke down into two parts. There were the writers and the reporters. And the reporters sucked at writing. And the writers weren't always the best diligent reporters. They kind of went into the business for different reasons. And the classic left brain, right brain breakdown of this is Woodward and Bernstein, where Woodward was the reporter and Bernstein was the writer, the craftsman. So if you are a Woodward who loves the reporting but struggles with the writing, just dump your raw notes into chat GPT and ask it to write you an article. And it will probably write an article that is better than the article you would have written, and then you'll never miss a deadline. Drop the mic. That's all I have time for today, but there's part two, so I look forward to it.
Well, thank you for your time, Dan. There's a whole lot more to dig into and we'll do that soon.
Looking forward to it. Until next time.
Thank you for listening to the Local News Matters podcast, and thanks to Dan for your time, energy, thoughtfulness and openness. I look forward to continuing the conversation, my friend.
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