What has happened?

Quartz, a New York based digital news publisher, is energising journalism via chat bot and artificial intelligence tools that enable users to individualise stories. Emily Withrow, director of Quartz Bot Studio, explained in a discussion at the recent SXSW 2019 festival in Texas “Our challenge is to write stories that you can talk to on a number of different platforms…you can talk back to the stories…type things…choose options, and the story really works and adapts to you…We can fill in the background if you need it – or if you don’t”. Quartz has been running experiments to rearrange paragraphs to show the audience’s side then the counterpoint, compared to showing everyone the latter. The reported finding is that people get further into the story by engaging with a perspective they don’t necessarily support.

Similarly Samsung is launching a chatbot via AT&T’s network that will recognise user preference for in-depth articles or scannable headlines, using AI to learn preferences over time.

This represents a shift for digital news from publisher directed to a deepened ability to adapt stories. For example, dependent on the level of prior knowledge; on request; or into snackable, conversational bites.

Quartz’s use of bots aligns to our 2019 trend for Progressive Representations moving beyond personalisation of news delivery to a widened interactive world, storifying multiple viewpoints. Potentially broadening the approach for news absorption to achieve less confirmation biased, more inclusive understanding.

Mindy Lee