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OpenAI commits $5M to local news partnership with the American Journalism Project

Bynewsmagzines

Jul 18, 2023
OpenAI commits $5M to local news partnership with the American Journalism Project


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OpenAI isn’t done making waves in the media industry — far from it.

The Sam Altman-led private company behind ChatGPT, last valued at close to $30 billion, today announced it has struck a partnership with the American Journalism Project (AJP), a non-profit philanthropic organization that has funded more than 40 media organizations across the U.S., in which OpenAI will gain access to more news articles and multimedia upon which to train its content, and the AJP will get money and developer credits.

Among the many newsrooms that AJP has funded are some that have become staples of their coverage areas, including the New York City-based “The City,” national education outlet Chalkbeat and national criminal justice publication The Marshall Project.

The new partnership, announced less than a week after OpenAI confirmed a deal of undisclosed value with the Associated Press newswire service to scan articles to train its AI models, will see OpenAI provide $5 million in cash to the AJP and an additional $5 million-worth of OpenAI API credits to some of the AJP’s portfolio companies. This will allow them to build applications that use OpenAI’s technologies, including ChatGPT and the underlying GPT-3.5 and 4 models large language models (LLMs).

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Augmenting local journalists or replacing them?

For example, a newsroom could theoretically build an internal tool for reporters that allows them to rapidly create charts and data visualizations for news articles using ChatGPT Code Interpreter, eliminating the need to hire in-house specialty data journalists or outside consultants to do the work.

Cofounded by venture capitalist Texas Tribune founder John Thornton and Chalkbeat founder Elizabeth Green, AJP was launched in 2019 to support local news in the U.S. It has since raised more than $134 million from dozens of organizations including the Facebook Journalism Project and the Emerson Collective (the latter founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the late Apple, Inc. founder).

Its mission is to support “high-quality local news that is governed by, sustained by and looks like the public it serves,” and to help “build a new generation of newsrooms.”

As such, it does not want to see journalist jobs gutted by technology like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or similar.

“We think it’s essential that generative AI is used as a tool for journalists, not as a replacement,” said Sarabeth Berman, CEO of The American Journalism Project, in a statement emailed to VentureBeat. “We are focused on growing the local news industry and adding jobs to the local news organizations in our portfolio…This partnership is intended to explore if Generative AI can improve workflows so that editorial staff can spend more time on hard-hitting reporting and the stories that matter most to the communities they serve. It is crucial to explore the ways in which AI could potentially support local organization’s efforts to be sustainable and enable them to produce more of the work critical to their audiences.”

Nonprofit doesn’t mean noncommercial

The AJP website links to data showing that more than 2,100 local newspapers in the U.S. have shuttered in the last 20 years, leaving 1,800 communities without a local newsroom and causing the loss of 60% of newsroom jobs.

“We measure the impact of our philanthropic investments and venture support by evaluating our efficacy in catalyzing grantees’ organizational growth, sustainability and impact,” AJP’s website says.

However, the organization also says that its “nonprofit news organizations are experimenting with sustainable, scalable business models that support local journalism that strengthens communities,” and that “nonprofit doesn’t mean noncommercial.”

AJP has ambitious plans for the money it is receiving from OpenAI: It intends to stand up a new tech and AI studio with a team that will provide coaching and assistance to its portfolio newsrooms, creating a “learning community” that connects the various newsrooms as well as a repository of best practices.

The organization will further issue grants to 10 of its portfolio newsrooms for them to build new AI apps and “serve as examples for the entire local news field about ways to best use AI-powered tools.”

“We consulted several of our grantee leaders about the opportunity as we were crafting details of the partnership to identify what would be most helpful to news organizations as they explore possible applications of generative AI in their work,” Berman explained to VentureBeat. “We’ve been met with positive feedback from the news organization leaders we’ve spoken with and a keen interest to explore smart applications of these tools.”

What does OpenAI get out of it?

According to Berman, OpenAI sought out the partnership, and will gain access to its portfolio company articles — similar to the arrangement with the AP announced last week in which OpenAI received access to the organization’s entire archives.

“We believe that AI is only as good as its source material, so we’re glad to see these articles be part of a set of trusted, reliable information that will help inform OpenAI’s models,” Berman told VentureBeat in an email. “We plan to leverage generative AI tools in a way that protects proprietary information effectively.”

As such, OpenAI gets a new source of training data, and is able to promote itself as a benefactor of journalism.

“AJP was approached by OpenAI because they were keen to bolster journalism and support the work to ensure local journalism smartly deploys these tools and because they are concerned with combatting disinformation,” Berman said.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, expressed his support, stating: “We are proud to back the American Journalism Project’s mission to fortify our democracy by rebuilding the local news sector. This collaboration resonates with our belief that AI should be accessible to everyone and employed to enhance work.”

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