Exploring emerging technologies: an update on our Product & AI Studio

This summer, the American Journalism Project launched our new Product & AI Studio, a new program to explore the smart application of emerging technologies in local journalism. Our goal through this studio is to ensure that emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, are leveraged in service of more accessible, high-quality and affordable journalism that serves the public interest. We are grateful to OpenAI for making this studio possible, and to the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation for their additional support we recently received. 

Through the Studio, we’ll help our portfolio of grantees understand and strategically leverage emerging tech; to do this, we’re bringing in industry experts to give coaching and collaborate on the development of AI-driven tools and applications alongside our grantees and other external partners. We’re also organizing a learning community across AJP’s portfolio to document and share best practices, guidelines and lessons as these experiments unfold — and we’ll work to share these learnings with the journalism industry at large. 

Today, we’re excited to share an update on the progress the Product & AI Studio has made so far. We’re starting our work in the Studio with a set of pilot investments; these direct grants will go to a cohort of 13 of our portfolio organizations, which will receive one- to two-year grants, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000. They are: Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI), Cityside, Civic News Company, CT Mirror, inewsource, The Marshall Project, Montana Free Press, Outlier Media, the Nebraska Journalism Trust, Open Campus, Sahan Journal, Spotlight PA, and THE CITY. This support will enable these organizations to pilot and experiment with different AI applications, and explore more ways to utilize AI’s capabilities. 

The projects we’re supporting through this cohort will allow our grantees to experiment with a wide variety of ways AI can help them solve problems, pursue their missions and serve their communities. This will allow the grantees to learn hands-on where and how to thoughtfully apply AI, to understand both the potential benefits and harms, to mitigate those risks and to become active participants in the conversation about the true opportunity of AI in local journalism. More on some of these projects:

  • Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Puerto Rico) will launch a pilot project to test AI’s capabilities around translating content from Spanish to English, and vice versa. CPI will also collaborate with linguistic professionals for quality control. Their goal is to develop more bilingual stories more efficiently, advancing their ability to collaborate on investigations with English-language partners in the Caribbean and the U.S. and allowing them to broaden support for investigative journalism in Puerto Rico and expand to serve Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland.
  • THE CITY (New York) will experiment with AI-driven tools focused on audience engagement, helping them sift through online information, answer New Yorkers’ questions and receive tips from readers. They’ll also experiment with ways to enable reporters to use AI to analyze data without needing to know how to code. THE CITY will also look at how AI can help them engage with readers who submit reporting tips, prompting their readers with initial AI-generated questions to submit more complete, detailed information, enabling the newsroom to to focus its time and resources on the more complex stages of acting on a tip.
  • inewsource (San Diego) will experiment with AI technology and tools to produce more public records requests more quickly, targeting far more public agencies. They’ll also explore ways AI can help analyze the voluminous documents they receive in response to those requests. 
  • Outlier (Detroit) utilizes an SMS platform, which has been central to its distribution of service journalism since its founding. In addition to distributing Outlier’s work, its SMS platform enables 1:1 conversations with Detroiters that often help set Outler’s editorial strategy via answering Detroiters’ questions. Outlier will experiment with integrating AI technology into its platform and workflows in key ways to enable their team to engage more people, better understand their audiences and build deeper, more valuable direct relationships with the communities they serve.
  • Cityside (Bay Area, California) will assess and implement revenue-related AI experiments to build learnings around using AI on the business side of news organizations. Cityside will prioritize experimenting with using AI-assisted communications to develop individual donor relationships across different giving levels. 

In addition to making these investments, we’re also working on building the Product & AI Studio team. We’ve posted the first two roles for this team, which are now accepting applications:

  • The Product & Partnerships Lead, Product & AI Studio will be our point person for understanding the needs of nonprofit news organizations and their audiences and businesses, identifying new opportunities for impact with emerging technologies – specifically generative artificial intelligence – and helping launch and test products, and developing relationships with technology and platform partners.
  • The Technology Lead, Product & AI Studio will have a background in software and data engineering, and will drive technology strategy and development. They will be responsible for understanding and helping our grantee nonprofit news organizations to act upon existing and emerging technologies — specifically AI — by researching, designing, developing, and deploying solutions.

As we work to advance our understanding of how to best apply these new technologies, we expect to have many lessons to share throughout our portfolio and with the broader industry. We look forward to engaging with others and providing more updates in the coming year! If you’re interested in comparing notes or partnering on this important work, please get in touch.

Trei Brundrett is a senior advisor working with the American Journalism Project’s Product & AI Studio and Startups Studio. He is the co-founder of Vox Media and on the board of the Texas Tribune and the Guardian.