Quartz forms Quartz AI Studio with $250k grant from Knight Foundation

Quartz has used artificial intelligence technology to help it promote articles through its AI-enabled chatbots. Now the publication is looking to incorporate computers more in the reporting of those articles.

Quartz has formed the Quartz AI Studio to produce articles that use machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence that trains computers to identify patterns and anomalies and otherwise analyze data, to assist in the reporting of those articles, such as by separating the signal from the noise in terabytes of data in a fraction of the time that it would take a team of humans to comb through them.

Similar to the Quartz Bot Studio, which was established in November 2016 to develop chatbots and apps for conversational interfaces like Facebook’s Messenger and Amazon’s Alexa, the formation of the publication’s AI outfit stems from a Knight Foundation grant. Quartz will use the $249,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to hire a developer and a producer to join the Quartz AI Studio alongside John Keefe, technical architect for bots and machine learning at Quartz. Quartz expects to make those hires in time to begin working on stories in January, said Keefe.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to have a transformative impact on the ways in which journalists share and spread the news. The Quartz AI Studio will hone this opportunity, putting artificial intelligence reporting methods into the hands of more journalists and helping small and mid-size news organizations increase their capacity to innovate,” said Paul Cheung, Knight Foundation director for journalism and technology innovation, in an emailed statement.

Publications, like BuzzFeed and The Washington Post, already use artificial intelligence to investigate hidden spy planes and cover companies’ earnings reports. Quartz AI Studio will produce similar work, but it will also be tasked with producing materials to help other publications produce such work on their own as well as in tandem with Quartz.

“This is taking [data journalism] to the next level where we’re trying to get journalists comfortable using computers to do some of this pattern matching, sorting, grouping, anomaly detection — really working with especially large data sets,” said Keefe.

Quartz AI Studio is expected to work on six articles in 2019, and Quartz hopes that at least half of those articles will be produced in collaboration with other publications, said Keefe.

Over the next six weeks, Quartz will brainstorm what stories would make sense for the AI Studio team to work on. “Machine learning won’t help with every story,” he said. Quartz has not set specific areas of interest for its AI Studio team that indicates any changes in the publication’s editorial coverage, Keefe said. The publication will also reach out to other news organizations, large and small, to see if they have any projects in the pipeline that could benefit from collaborating with Quartz AI Studio.

The Knight Foundation grant will subsidize Quartz AI Studio’s work for the next year, during which time Quartz could find ways to make money from it in the long run. As it has done with its Bot Studio, Quartz could have the AI Studio team to work with brands, though that’s not part of the plan for AI Studio’s first year, Keefe said.

Also not part of the plan, at least initially, is having Quartz AI Studio produce content specifically for Quartz’s new paid membership tier. Not only will the AI Studio team be working on big enough projects that “we will want to have out to the general population,” Keefe said, but half of those projects are likely to be produced with other publications that wouldn’t want to limit their own audiences’ ability to access it.

In addition to incorporating more computer-assisted reporting in its own journalism, the publication plans to use its AI Studio to help others, particularly small- and mid-sized outlets that may not be able to staff a standalone team dedicated to AI-assisted reporting. The Quartz AI Studio team will publish how-to guides and release code examples that other publications can use to start incorporating the technology into their own reporting.


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