Why AI Will Make Local News Brands Even More Valuable


AI Graphic

By Tim Wolff
Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation, Futuri Media

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Radio Television Digital News Association released Ethics Coverage Guidelines for The Use of AI in Journalism last week)

The artificial intelligence world is here to stay. What will it mean for our local stations?

AI will mean there will be a lot more content for consumers, some of it propaganda or fake

We’ve all seen the power of ChatGPT and other emerging AI technologies. It’s been a public explosion of what had been happening quietly: artificial intelligence writing content for publications, marketing, and a variety of businesses.

While it’s been common in news media sports and finance stories for years, AI is now available to create content for just about anyone. That includes the propaganda and fake news websites that have exploded in recent years. The concepts behind those sites aren’t new, but politicians and others working on behalf of governments are using them more frequently. And AI allows anyone to make realistic sites in moments without spending much money.

What does this mean? It means viewers and listeners are about to be inundated with even more “news” from everywhere. While some will be fooled, people will quickly turn to a critical commodity: news that is real.

Consumers will value TRUST above all, and the knowledge that what they are getting is real and authentic

Who is more authentic than the news anchor I’ve watched or listened to for years? As a user who sees stories from anywhere and everywhere, I’ll become skeptical that the news I see is real (if I’m not already). I’ll seek comfort in a person and brand that I trust — even if it’s a brand I’ve watched or listened to less in recent years. 

This is an opportunity to bring back the audience we’ve lost to other forms of media.

It will mean making sure we are still getting our brand in front of consumers everywhere, keeping us top of mind as they think about news. This is why we still need to invest in SEO, social and other areas. But in the end, when viewers and listeners need to go to someone they can count on, it will be the local media brands they know.

The best place for that will be local media O&O products: TV, radio, newspapers, apps and websites

Is that article I saw on social or the internet really from my local station? That’s a question we will encounter as more bad actors take advantage of AI to confuse people. National brands like ABC have battled intentional confusion for more than a decade. Now it is easier than ever before for anyone — even a lone person working from home without meaningful financing — to create credible-looking content that looks like your brand.

Where will audiences go to find content they know is true when they're being inundated with propaganda? They’ll go to the places they know you own: your app, your station, and your website at the URL they know. This will actually lead to a resurgence in direct traffic to websites — for those that are wise about discoverability. Better yet, all that work you’ve done driving them to your apps over the years will yield immense benefits as people seek sources they know and trust.

And when they come to you on air (or on OTT or streaming on apps or wherever), authenticity and connection will be key drivers. Using AI properly is part of this. RadioGPT™ can use AI to create authentic radio experiences, even when live hosts are not available. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri) Other efforts are underway to use AI-generated TV anchors. Viewers will see artificial anchors.

Some will be legitimately focused on truth and news, but others may be delivering propaganda or news that isn’t credible. That is another reason viewers will turn to the anchors they know — the ones they can believe are real, or at least will know are AI versions of their trusted anchors, from their trusted brands. This will make local broadcasters more valuable, and their owned-and-operated (O&O) products are the best way to do that.

Social platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, may also decline as a driver of news traffic

We’ve all seen the news about Meta stepping back from news with Facebook. And Twitter is, shall we say, changing rapidly. What does this mean for us, trying to reach viewers and listeners?

The first thing to remember is that these are essentially distributors, sending out our news to bring people (hopefully) back to our websites. If and when news is de-emphasized on these platforms, news consumers will have to seek it somewhere else. The importance of SEO will likely grow, but consumers will still be stuck: how do they know what to trust what they find randomly searching the internet? Again, this will be the time they need to turn to our trusted O&O platforms.

News organizations need to take care of how people are discovering their brands now 

If I come to you from social or search, are you trustworthy? (Hint: if you have a billion pop-up ads and your articles are hard to read, you are not).

All of this is, of course, predicated on the idea that consumers trust you. If they don’t, you’re in trouble. You should be working to make sure your viewers and listeners have a solid trust of the news you’re doing (and your research needs to be deeper than the knee-jerk response of “I don’t trust any media,” because lots of people will say that but still harbor trust for their local media).

Most newsrooms have plans and policies around this, doing things such as tracking balance and diversity and having deep discussions about journalism. Unfortunately, too many of these initiatives are harmed not by the journalists, but by the digital experience we give our would-be users.

Does your research show you have a trusted anchor, but that your station’s digital brand rates lower? Start addressing it by taking a look at what that digital experience is like. Many of our local brands now have websites that look like the clickbait vultures we all try to avoid. In some cases it is almost impossible to read the article, not just because of ads but because links are deliberately placed to fool users to click on ads. That experience does not engender trust.

The time is now to fix that. Make things so users get the same trust experience on your website that they get on your broadcast.

As viewers and listeners turn to you, can they get everything they need?

If they only get some of what they need from you, they have to go somewhere else, too (and maybe they’ll like that place better).

Part of trust is not just telling the truth. It’s users placing their trust in you, that if they need to know it, you will tell them. Our local brands have really done a good job focusing on local news in many markets, but there’s a reason we still must cover regional and national news on our local stations: our viewers and listeners still want and need it.

Figuring out what our audience wants is another area where AI can help. For more than a decade, Futuri’s TopicPulse has used data and artificial intelligence to show stations the news topics their local audience cares about most. Now it includes AI that can help newsrooms write stories and create videos faster.

It’s a leading example of how stations can and should be using AI to drive greater trust from the audience.

In sum, AI is a tool, and consumers will go to the brands they trust who use it well

Artificial intelligence at scale is here. It is now and will forever be a part of our lives, our media, and our relationship with trust. The tools rapidly being created create nearly unlimited opportunities, but only our local, established brands are well-positioned to use these AI advancements to deliver trusted and authentic news to our audiences.

And that will be the biggest commodity in our AI future.

Tim Wolff is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri. He has 20+ years of experience as a digital and broadcasting leader. To continue this conversation on AI, contact him on LinkedIn or by email at timwolff@futurimedia.com.

(Graphic: Mohamed Nohassi / Unsplash)