Artificial Intelligence and the future of news publishing


SupervisorProfessor Gina Neff, Oxford Internet Institute 

Project outline

Powerful new forms of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic curation now shape how people receive many different kinds of cultural texts from news to music to books to friends’ updates and photographs. This project marshals the resources of the Oxford Internet Institute, including training in digital humanities, qualitative social science, and computational techniques, for a critical focus on the roles of new and emerging forms AI for news practices. Several experiments in AI are already underway among established journalists and journalism organizations who are using the tools of artificial intelligence for ‘story discovery’ (Broussard 2018), data journalism (Kobie 2018), data visualisation (Underwood 2017), ‘automated’ ‘routine’ reporting (Cohen 2015, “Robo-Journalism and Capital Markets” n.d.), and ‘semantic discovery’ (for example, The Atlantic Journal-Constitution’s (2016) use of large scale data for reporting their series on physicians and sex abuse). These efforts have the potential for enormous shifts in the media represent different people and how people make sense of themselves through media representations (Cheney-Lippold 2017; Noble 2018). The ecologies of news production and circulation are also potentially undergoing seismic shifts.

The goals for this doctoral project are to follow the emerging practices of the production, distribution, circulation and reception of AI news texts to map the emerging terrain for possible futures for news. Specific questions include:

  • How are journalists at the frontier of adoption using AI to curate information, images, and text and what are the challenges that emerge as they adopt a new toolkit into their writing and publication practices?
  • How do the ‘imagined affordances’ (Neff & Nagy 2015) of AI influence how journalists approach AI as a tool for newsrooms and how do journalist’s perceptions and misperceptions of the technical capacities of AI tools like supervised machine learning shape how the tools are used?
  • What changes are occurring in the practices and discourses of ‘human’ journalists in AI-enhanced newsrooms and how do these changes relate to other concomitant modes writing and craft in the same organisations and publications?

 Powerful algorithms are doing some of the work of news curation with emerging cultural, social and political implications for publication beyond print in news and these changes have implications for understanding how the practices of writing and reception of cultural texts are rapidly evolving. This doctoral project will centrally address the emerging practices of craft around news production in a data-intensive newsroom through mixed methods approach, including methods that could include one or more of the following possible types of scholarship: textual analysis, digital humanities, ethnographic observation techniques, interviews, case studies, and large-scale computational methods.

The Oxford Internet Institute have several resources to support this doctoral project. In addition to providing possible training in computational textual methods, interviewing, fieldwork, and data visualisation OII offer ongoing workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics including a joint working paper series with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, a longstanding seminar on digital ethnography, and a new reading group ‘Counting Differently’ on the implications of digital culture on society.

Application process

Candidates are required to apply for the DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences by 25 January 2019. The scholarship will cover tuition fees, colleges fees and provide a living allowance at Research Council rates. Candidates from all backgrounds are welcome to apply, although the Leverhulme Trust has a preference for supporting Home/EU candidates.

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