“We are the original storytellers of what is newsworthy”: Juan Señor calls on media companies to have confidence in an AI-driven landscape

Publishers should stand firm on their unique value for readers while embracing the opportunities afforded by generative AI, said Juan Señor, co-author (with Jayant Sriram) of the new Innovation in Media 2023 World Report, which launched during the FIPP World Media Congress.

“This really is a watershed year. It’s massively transformative,” said Señor.

Roughly 50 per cent of this year’s 160+ page Innovation in Media is dedicated to the topic of generative AI.

Now in its 15th edition, Innovation in Media takes stock annually of the newest, most exciting, and most profitable developments impacting media today. The 2023 version explores five major changes transforming the media landscape: generative AI, Gen Z engagement, new business models for publishers, emerging content formats, and the power of print.

In his presentation, Señor focused on generative AI and the threats and opportunities it poses for publishers.

The Innovation in Media 2023 World Report is available in print and digital editions, with FIPP members getting a discount. Get the full version now.

Let’s not make the same mistake again

Señor started by defining the stakes. “Let’s be clear. AI is not about digital transformation – it’s about the transformation of the digital,” he said.

“It’s time for AI-first media companies. AI can kill the search revenue and the CPM model; it can kill the subscription model. People will ask: why should I subscribe to anything when an Oracle or a DeepMind can give me all the answers?”

Referring to previous waves of technological disruption, Señor urged: “We missed the search train and the mobile train – let’s not miss this train. Understand AI, don’t fight it.”

He said that while generative AI is the “single greatest threat to our business model”, like the waves of disruptive technology that have hit the publishing industry before, it is also the biggest opportunity: “It can generate vast amounts of revenue; it will decentralise the web, open space beyond big tech dominance. It may destroy the duopoly.”

More broadly, there will be an even greater torrent of fake news and unverifiable content than before, and that will create another space for publishers to step in. “In a flood of fake news, we can become again the source of verification, trust and objectivity. Not just in political news, but in consumer news. We can play the role of arbiter, of verifier, of what’s already out there.”

No content without consent: safeguarding intellectual property

Continuing on this topic, Señor emphasised the importance of publishers not losing control of their valuable, human-made content. AIs like ChatGPT are designed to draw information from academia, journalism, and Wikipedia and corporate websites in a roughly three-way split.

“We must remember that tools like ChatGPT have been built in large part, on our hard work,” write Señor and Sriram in the report, echoing the sentiments with which FIPP CEO and President, James Hewes, opened Congress. “Journalism is 30 per cent of what feeds AI. Let’s not make the same mistake and give it all for free all over again.

“Our content is being scraped and stolen – we need to say: not this time,” added Señor. He pointed to recent moves by Spotify, Hollywood and Getty to block AI-generated content.

Efforts to digitally watermark journalism and content are underway, but the dust is nowhere near settled yet. “We are in the questions phase, not the conclusions phase,” said Señor.

The main question publishers need to ask is: is AI going to help me meet my goals? “If the answer is yes, then ask for proof,” advised Señor. “In many ways not doing so is the original sin of our business. We know by now that we can’t build our businesses on someone else’s platform, whether Facebook or Google. Big tech is not looking out for our interests. And generative AI will supplant social, will supplant search.

“We keep doing this: we ignore the platform, then we give away everything we have, and then we spend decades fighting for a partnership. They have their interests, so why expect them to look out for our interests? There has been too much tokenism and too little revenue.

“Platform journalism has not worked and will not work,” write Sriram and Señor in the report. “It is time to treat your site as the destination.”

Emotional intelligence, not artificial intelligence

Next, Señor outlined three principles of using AI in media:

  • Human oversight, always
  • Full disclosure if using AI, always
  • Full responsibility, always

Many publishers have already written codes of conduct for using AI.

For Señor, putting resources into everything that is not AI is a way that publishers can thrive. “Artificial intelligence? I prefer emotional intelligence. AI has no conscience, and conscience is the essence of intelligence,” he said. 

More from the FIPP Congress:

The human factor in finding the news

Señor also highlighted the need to remember that generative AI (large language models – LLMs) and AI automation (machine learning) are different things. Therefore, they can be implemented for different purposes in media environments.

“Content is not the same as journalism,” he said. “AI can do a lot: it can regenerate content, it can summarise, repurpose, provide background context, repackage into different formats, transcribe, report on the weather, and tell you stuff that’s happened already.

“But it cannot do journalism. AI will never find the news – it will never find the stories that are happening now.”

Based on this, the existential threat from AI to the media industry is not that storytelling and journalism will be replaced – in fact, AI can help massively to facilitate and automate a lot of what publishers produce. “Rather, it is the fact that for the consumer, something like ChatGPT is a one-stop shop for all their informational needs which means that they won’t come to us any more,” explained Señor.

There are already AI-first newsrooms; Señor recommends experimenting with this for efficiency, for example with transcribing interviews. “Automate if you want. It frees us up to do high quality journalism instead and reduces cost base massively.”

What makes publishers unique, different and valuable? In both his presentation and the Innovation in Media report, the main takeaway is that publishers must remember own valuable offering amidst this latest world-shifting technological leap.

“As the machines take over, It’s time to rediscover our true value as original storytellers of what is newsworthy,” he said. “We have a choice. All of you have a choice. Let’s get this one right.”


Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x