It was great to welcome Media Impact Funders members to our annual networking event at the Online News Association conference last week, here in Philadelphia. We always enjoy seeing colleagues who support journalism and greatly appreciate the hospitality of our friends at ONA. It was touching to hear from the organization’s new executive director, LaSharah S. Bunting, who acknowledged that it was just a short time ago that she was sitting in the room as a member, when she was on staff at the Knight Foundation, and how pleased she was now to be welcoming us all to her conference.
Special thanks also to our partners at The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, who invited us to convene our meeting this year in their Lenfest Lounge at #ONA23.
And it was an especially auspicious occasion for us, as we unveiled the new research project, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago in partnership with MIF and The Lenfest Institute, under the direction of MIF consultant Jennifer Preston. Great thanks to the MacArthur Foundation, Arnold Ventures and The Lenfest Institute for their financial support of this important project.
The conference itself was a powerful display of the depth and breadth of innovation and impact carried out by news organizations of all types engaged in digital media. The program was full of meaningful sessions, including a particularly galvanizing discussion with Nikole Hannah-Jones and a sobering discussion on the role of news in combating recruitment for extremism. Also riveting, was the session on gun violence reporting in a city where the impact of gun violence is a sad and daily reality. One particularly strong impression from the discussion is the key message that victims of gun violence routinely feel that they are further victimized by the dehumanizing and unfeeling behavior of many reporters and media outlets, who convey their experiences simply as statistics, without any reflection on their lives or their suffering. A painful reminder for journalists to do no harm in their own work.
In the final featured session of the program, focusing on ChatGPT and real uses of AI in the newsroom, there was a lively discussion of practical guidance on how and whether to use artificial intelligence in news gathering and production. Sisi Wei, editor of The Markup, offered a couple of entertaining examples of how journalists can begin to use AI in useful and amusing exercises that won’t appear directly in news production. She cited an example from her colleague Nabiha Syed, who wrote an article for The Markup, “The Very Hungry Algorithm: Bedtime with ChatGPT.” In it, she explained that her 3-year-old son loves bedtime stories and has recently begun to ask for bespoke stories, generated by ChatGPT on her phone! Their favorite prompt so far: “Please write a bedtime story appropriate for a three year old about the 2021 Suez Canal crisis, in the style of The Little Engine That Could.” Very precocious!
Sisi Wei also offered another ingenious application of artificial intelligence, offered by Siri Carpenter, editor-in-chief of The Open Notebook, where Wei is on the board of directors. Like any enterprising nonprofit news leader, Carpenter is always thinking of how she can find more financial support for her organization. So she asked ChatGPT: Here are several of our current funders, what other foundations might support The Open Notebook. Head’s up, science funders. ChatGPT offered a lot of possible funders. Please expect a call. With such an ingenious application of technology to bolster her organization, it’s not surprising that Siri Carpenter was also named the winner of this year’s ONA Community Award. As the selection committee said: “There is a large difference between seeking “buy-in” and seeking “permission.” Siri did the former and not the latter, creating an extremely useful, thorough and needed resource and not asking first, if it was ok to do so.”
And now we know the answer to the perplexing question – What happens when Siri asks ChatGPT a question?
On a more serious note, it was really great to see MIF member and major supporter the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation stepping up its support of ONA, providing leading support of the ONA Journalism Awards this year. Congratulations to our friends at Hewlett and ONA.