Insights from the 2023 Changing Newsrooms Report on remote work, hybrid models & the impact of AI

Ever since 2020, the Reuters Institute has been examining how global news organizations are adjusting their operational methods in response to external shifts and internal dynamics, with their Changing Newsrooms Reports.

For example, Covid 19 pandemic prompted widespread adoption of telecommuting in news organizations, which was later followed by the ‘hybrid newsroom’ —combining remote and in-office arrangements. Hybrid practices underscored disparities between those working in close proximity to supervisors and those operating remotely (known as ‘proximity bias’), while also highlighting the potential benefits of increased flexibility in fostering a more diverse and distributed workforce.

Within this spectrum, the 2023 Changing Newsrooms report , based on a survey of 135 senior industry leaders from 40 countries and ten in-depth interviews, found out that

  • 65% of interviewed organizations have adopted flexible and hybrid working models, accompanied by new rules for staff. A significant portion (30%) specified that employees must be present in the office on fixed days each week, with strict enforcement. In contrast, 22% mentioned that although there is a requirement for staff to be in the office on specific days, there is no monitoring of compliance.
  • concerns persist among some news leaders regarding a perceived disconnection within their workforce due to the shift to hybrid and flexible working. Specifically, 38% expressed that this transition has weakened the staff's sense of belonging to the organization.
  • regarding the integration of generative AI in newsrooms, 74% of respondents believe that it will enhance productivity and streamline workflows without fundamentally altering the essence of journalism. In contrast, only 21% foresee generative AI transforming workflows and processes, leading to a fundamental change in every role within the newsroom.
  • addressing the incorporation of AI, 29% of news leaders mentioned that their organizations already have high-level principles guiding their AI plans, while 39% are actively working on developing them. In terms of detailed guidelines for using generative AI in different situations, only 16% reported having them in place, with 35% currently in the process of developing such guidelines. A mere 9% of leaders reported the existence of training programs for staff in this regard.

Exploring the Influence of AI on Roles and Workflows

Since ChatGPT's public debut in November 2022, the news industry has engaged in extensive discussions regarding the potential ramifications of artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI, on information production and consumption.

In response to the question about how generative AI and workflow automation might shape jobs in the newsroom over the next decade, 74% of respondents indicated that 'generative AI will enhance efficiency without altering the fundamental essence of our work.' Conversely, 21% believed that 'generative AI will revolutionize workflows and processes, fundamentally transforming every role in the newsroom.' A mere 2% held the view that generative AI would have no impact on news work, underscoring the widespread acknowledgment of AI's potential influence within the industry.

Further delving into newsroom leaders' perspectives on this potential impact, as seen int the Changing Newsrooms 2023 report, the recurring sentiment gleaned from 61 comments received was resoundingly clear: currently, generative AI is anticipated to boost newsroom productivity and refine workflows, ultimately affording journalists more time for substantive journalism. However, the consensus among leaders is that the core of journalism, inherently driven by human insight and capability, will remain unchanged.

Many news publishers and editors emphasized the potential efficiency gains achieved through the automation of basic or routine tasks. A senior figure in a global news organization articulated this sentiment, stating, "AI may handle certain lower-level tasks, but we continue to rely on our staff to discover, produce, and edit stories manually. AI cannot replace the essence of robust reporting’. Some view the rise of AI-generated content as an avenue for news publishers to leverage their distinctive value and potentially enhance revenue. However, ethical considerations were interwoven into the discourse, with some caution expressed about the publication of AI-generated content.

The survey also aimed to assess the degree to which news publishers have begun implementing practical guidelines or training programs to navigate the possibilities and risks associated with AI integration. Concerning the establishment of high-level principles governing the use of generative AI in news organizations, 39% of respondents indicated that their organizations are currently in the process of developing them, while 29% reported having some guidelines already in place. A notable 21% acknowledged considering the implementation of such principles but have not yet finalized them.

Despite ongoing efforts towards high-level principles, only 16% claimed to have more detailed guidelines for the varied use of generative AI in different scenarios, with 35% actively engaged in developing such guidelines and 30% contemplating their creation.

Formally designating a person to oversee all editorial aspects of generative AI is a reality for 16% of survey respondents, while 29% stated that their organizations are not currently considering such a designation. Lastly, a mere 9% of participants reported that their organizations have implemented a training program to educate staff about the opportunities and risks associated with generative AI, with the majority (40%) considering it and 29% actively working on its implementation.

At this point, we must point out that a few respondents highlighted the early stage of these developments, noting that responses to the same survey questions may evolve significantly in the coming six months.
 

Conclusions

  • Changing Work Practices: Newsrooms evolved with remote and hybrid working models, embracing flexibility in work organization and staff locations.
  • Flexible Working Models: Most news organizations allow flexibility, typically with fixed days for office work, and enforcement methods vary.
  • Productivity Outlook: News leaders believe flexible working hasn't significantly hindered productivity, but efforts to measure productivity vary.
  • Generative AI Impact: Despite the rise of generative AI, news leaders prioritize maintaining the human-powered core of journalism. Majority sees generative AI enhancing efficiency without fundamentally altering journalism; only 20% foresee a transformative impact.
  • Guidelines and Training: Organizations are developing high-level principles for generative AI, but detailed guidelines and training programs are in early stages.
  • Reactive Industry Approach: The journalism industry tends to react rather than proactively shape its future, often adopting isolated initiatives.
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