The Bulawayo-based Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) is quickly catching up with other media organisations in advanced countries who are implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in their newsrooms, media experts have said.
AI is rapidly engulfing the world of technology, including journalism, and may assist journalists with tasks such as content development, verification, audience personalisation, tagging, and data mining.
CITE adopted the use of AI on 7 May 2023 by introducing an AI generated newsreader called Alice to improve news delivery and engage audiences.
During the coverage of elections, Alice appeared on online screens presenting the ‘Meet your Candidate’ series and provides the daily ‘The Brief’ news bulletin.
Alice also has her own Twitter account (@Aicitezw), where she posts news alongside CITE’s main account.
Presenting on the Impact of Alice at the ongoing regional media conference on AI and its future in journalism on Wednesday in Bulawayo, Associate Professor Mphathisi Ndlovu of the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) said it was commendable to see CITE following in the footsteps of emerging countries such as China, which is regarded as the first country to unveil AI in newsrooms.
“China is regarded as the first country to unveil an AL news anchor in 2018 through the state-run Xinhua news agency. Other AI-powered presenters include Sana and Lisa in India, Snezhana Tumanova in Russia, Fedha in Kuwait and Nadira in Indonesia. Then in Bulawayo we have Alice at CITE,” he said.
The three-day regional media conference began on October 3 in Windhoek, Namibia, then moved to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – hosted by CITE – on October 4, and will conclude in Lilongwe, Malawi on October 5.
The conference’s theme is “Empowering African AI” to advance the Future of Journalism Education in Southern Africa.
Prof Ndlovu, who conducted research titled Alice in the Newsroom: Audience perceptions of CITE’s AI driven news presenter to gain better understanding of audiences’ reception, said the newsbot sparked interest in various social circles both offline and online.
“Alice has become a touchstone especially for media organisations in the Global South that seek to integrate AI in their newsrooms. Journalists from Countries such as Rwanda reached out to Zenzele Ndebele to gain insights on the use of Alice. The newsbot has generated interest in various circles such as academia. Journalism educators are integrating Alice into their courses on AI in the newsroom,” he said.
The lecturer said to further demonstrate the impact of Alice, the CITE team has been invited to various platforms to give presentations and participate in panel discussion on AI-powered newsrooms.
“There has been considerable interest in Alice from various journalists, educators, media experts, data scientists and other stakeholders,” said Prof Ndlovu but noted that there was a group that still did not understand the need for AI presenters or AI in newsrooms.
“On the one hand, audiences applaud CITE for the innovative and creative way of storytelling but on the other hand, there are concerns about poor pronunciation, lack of human touch and emotions, perceived credibility of AI news, and the implications on the news sector.’
Prof Ndlovu said for example audiences “would accuse Alice of not showing emotions when reading news or that she struggles to pronounce vernacular surnames such as Ncube.”
“Nevertheless newsrooms are increasingly adopting and utilising digital technologies as part of newsgathering, production and dissemination processes. The AI-generated news is shared on CITE’s Instagram and Tik Tok accounts as well,” he said.
For his study on the impact of Alice, Prof Ndlovu said it was qualitative, relied on in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to gain insights on audience’ perception.
“The interviews were conducted in both online and offline spaces with 50 participants including journalists, journalism students, journalism educators and other citizens who were consulted,” said Prof Ndlovu noting that a study on the audience reception to Alice is crucial in providing insights on how best such AI innovations can be implemented in newsrooms.