Great expectations: thought leadership, meet AI

Sean Kearns

If you have read a thought leadership piece over the past year that has not mentioned the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), we would like to see it.

They are pervasive, but too many are repetitive and shallow. As every sector from transport to textiles embraces machine learning technologies, we crave insights that reach beneath the surface. Not yet another reflection on AI’s potential, but helpful, practical takes on the technology’s day-to-day impact.

But while we have been busy trying to separate reality from hype, we have sometimes ignored how AI is changing the world (and thought leadership) closer to home. Luckily, others have been paying more attention.

Automated journalists?

In December, the JournalismAI Festival will take place across five days. Among the speakers will be members of BBC News Labs, which is working on a project that looks at how stories can be semi-automated using ‘machine-written journalism’. This sounds futuristic, but a recent piece by Calum Chace highlighted just how many articles are already being produced by Natural Language Generation (NLG) tools.

The festival is supported by the Google News Initiative, which recently launched Journalist Studio in its efforts to help journalism in the digital age. One of its tools allows reporters to upload and analyse large document sets using Google Search and AI, and allows us to fact-check results about a topic or a person at the same time.

These collaborative tools and others show why there are great expectations for AI’s role in content production. Among the 10 ways newsrooms expect to reshape journalism are better-personalised distribution of content, more efficient, automated production of content and finding more stories in data.

What this means for marketers

Just as content marketers look to news publishers for clues on reader engagement and product development, so we should look at how AI strategies in the newsroom are evolving.

There are growing numbers of AI-powered tools to help marketers make content more readable, searchable and personalised. That is valuable, but it is only one end of the spectrum.

For brands with large content portfolios, AI-based tools could have a more profound impact on how they think about content creation and distribution. Many are already mining data to make better choices on content selection, and are using automation to complete operational tasks, but there are some even bigger possibilities.

Not many newsrooms – and far fewer in-house content teams – have a fully rounded AI strategy. Yet debate has already started about which skills and tools will be needed in the future, which products can be streamlined and which partners will be required.

Where is the value?

As our screens, speakers and phones get smarter, we become more impatient with stories that miss the mark. We are now used to recommendations, so we want better ones. For producers of thought leadership, this presents a double challenge. We need to bring greater depth to our coverage of AI and also consider how AI can bring greater value to how we produce that work.

“Journalists must better understand these technologies so they can report on them and hold algorithms accountable,” wrote Charlie Beckett, the Director of the JournalismAI Festival, recently. “But journalists should also help the public understand better the ethical and social impact that AI might have on our lives in general.”

As producers and consumers of thought leadership, it is also time we took a deeper interest in AI’s ability to change every industry – including our own.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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