by Ruth Cawley

We live in a predominantly digital society where new technological advancements are embraced and public interests are constantly in flux. In response to these changes, the art of journalism will doubtlessly experience more innovation and experimentation over time.  Even Ireland’s most prominent newspapers and broadcasters are keeping up with the times by adapting to new forms of storytelling and reporting. 

An article was published in August 2023 by Anjaneya University in which they outlined some notable recent trends in modern journalism. With a smartphone in every pocket, the public can contribute to reporting on current events and offer personal insights on social media. This is coined as ‘citizen journalism’ which is growing in popularity and removes formal broadcasters as the sole source of news. They are no longer gatekeepers of information, although they are still considered the most authentic or reliable sources. They have more access to big data and analysis of this data to verify information and investigate stories that would be otherwise undetected with classical journalistic methods. With easier collection and access to data, journalism is thus taking on a more data-driven approach in recent times. 

According to a survey outlined in Reuters Digital News Report Ireland 2023, approximately 39% of 18-24-year-olds in Ireland consume their news on social media. Excluding social media, Reuters reports that 31% of this same group still consumes news online. The younger age range are considered more technologically savvy than older generations. Reuters coined the term ‘social natives’ in their report as being 18-24 years old and consume news media from TV (18%), radio (5%), and newspapers (5%) at extremely low levels. These statistics imply that the Irish media landscape continues to gravitate toward digital means of accessing information, lessening the demand for traditional media reporting. The overall interest level for the younger generation is recorded at 28% while the older generation register at 69%. One infers from this report that, while interest is much lower among younger audiences, they are much more digitally savvy than the older Irish population. It indicates that their interest in news media can be increased by improving delivery via digital channels. 

Within the newsroom, digital technologies are altering the day-to-day tasks for journalists and reporters. Most Irish publications have broken into the podcasting game, enabling audiences to access stories more conveniently and effectively cross-posting stories in different mediums. For instance, The Irish Times regularly updates its podcast library under genres including news, women’s interest, politics, and business. Reuters observe that podcasting can diversify the content produced by a newsroom by focusing on more niche genres or simply being edited into more condensed versions of bigger stories. Alternatively, removes the time limits placed on synchronous or live broadcasting and enables deeper exploration of topics. Podcasts also offer unique opportunities for journalists to explore new forms of narratives and develop their skills as presenters or editors. Podcasting also opens potential revenue streams through advertising, subscription packs, or merchandising. The ability to monetise podcasting certainly makes it a more attractive endeavour for broadcasters. 

According to the Digital News Report Ireland 2023, Ireland ranks among the top countries with the highest news podcast listenership in the world. While the United States takes the lead with 19%, Ireland has a strong score of 14% and ranks in third place after Sweden (17%). In comparison, other larger European countries generate lower results. For example, a proportion of 9% in France and the UK listen to news podcasts. The survey conducted by DNRI 2023 had a base of ~2,000 for each country in that calendar year. The results indicate that overall consumption of monthly podcasts has increased significantly over the last five years. However, news podcasts are growing at a much slower rate. 

Advancements in technology also opens new avenues for research. Artificial intelligence (AI) is continuously being developed for use in different sectors and brings many potential innovations for journalism. AIs can be utilised for evaluating large amounts of data and quickly produce written reports in real-time. In a news environment, this is especially helpful as AI can generate content on a 24/7 basis. This leaves more time for human reporters to concentrate on more complicated tasks and cover more ground. 

Reporters and journalists can potentially use the likes of ChatGPT to write short reports or fact-check their research. However, one must consider that ChatGPT is only updated with information as current as January 2022 and therefore is not knowledgeable about breaking news stories in our current mediascape. Until these search engines and AIs are updated more regularly or able to discern real-time events, journalists and reporters are still required to actively go into the field and collect information manually. Doubtlessly, the end-goal is to eliminate human error from the process using these technologies. 

One of the most prominent challenges with AI use in journalism is that it often removes human interaction or creativity from the process. Audiences often note and respond positively to unique styles of writing and reporting from individual journalists. This cannot feasibly be replicated by AI software to date. AI algorithms are also built on data that must be current, reliable, and objective. Therefore, it stands to reason that humans must oversee the data being gathered and integrated with these algorithms. A significant effort must be made to ensure that human biases and misinformation are removed from the generation of AI content as much as possible. Considering that humans are more subject to bias than machines, eliminating it from AI continues to be a struggle. 

As it stands, human journalists remain vital to the reporting of reliable news stories despite the introduction of technological innovations to the sector. Moving forward, it is more likely that the ideal balance must be struck between the use of AI and human involvement with content development. This balance would presumably be applied to all forms of news media, i.e. written articles, television broadcasts, podcasts. 

We here at the SMEDIA Awards are happy to announce that the Irish Times are a partner with us for the year’s awards!