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LSBU hosts British Journalism Training Council conference

Annual BJTC conference at LSBU considers likely impact of Artificial Intelligence on future newrooms, and asks, will we still need real people in journalism?
15 May 2019

Will newsrooms of the future need real people in journalism? Can Artificial Intelligence help to create faster, more dynamic news production? These were two of the hot topics aired at the annual conference for British Journalism Training Council (BJTC) hosted (9 May) by LSBU.

BJTC members, who comprise a mixture of academics and journalists from around the UK, gathered in LSBU’s state of the art Elephant Studios newsroom to network with one another. They also heard from industry experts at Sky News and the BBC about latest developments in the use of coding and metadata to track facial recognition in news footage.

Course director for Journalism at LSBU, L-J Filotrani said: "It's a wonderful opportunity for us to host this year's BJTC conference. The annual BJTC events always provoke interesting discussions and being able to welcome industry professionals into our newsroom, sharing best practice, is invaluable for our continued curriculum development in journalism training."

Matt Eaton, General Manager from machine learning and Artificial Intelligence provider GreyMeta, was joined by Sky Digital’s Team Product Manager, Hugh Westbrook, to demonstrate the latest use of AI in Sky’s newsroom.

Matt and Hugh showed how pre-programmed, embedded metadata coding had been used to track and trace facial recognition during Sky’s Royal wedding coverage at Windsor Castle last year, helping journalists back in the newsroom to make sense of the confusing array of guests attending Meghan and Harry’s wedding.

Rob McKenzie, Editor, BBC News Labs, gave a presentation about the latest 'machine learning' innovation being rolled out at the BBC. Rob demonstrated how coding has recently helped to develop the corporation’s complex, multilayered coverage of Brexit to offer tailored content to a diverse multi-strand audience with differing levels of political understanding and desire for information of varying complexity.

Professor Rose Luckin from the Institute of Education, UCL, rounded off the discussion about the pioneering use of AI in newsrooms by stressing the vital importance of embedding ethics into the process and the likely risk of ignoring ethics for the journalism profession.

The morning sessions looked at the development of journalism training at universities, with a particular emphasis this year on innovative ways in which teachers in academia can ‘encourage’ students to overcome their post-millennial, social anxieties and talk directly to real people to get a story.  Several lecturers pointed out that for the generation raised on WhatsApp, door-stepping a potential interviewee or picking up the phone and actually speaking to someone can be a frightening prospect.

The perils of using ‘vox pops’ as lazy journalism was raised, with some of the BJTC members present arguing there is no substitute for students going out of their comfort zones to find an original, live story.

Craig Hooper, Course Leader, University of South Wales, described how he likes to challenge his students to take inspiration from his son, Morgan, who has worked continuously on his stammer, to the point where he was able to complete a live radio interview on Radio Five live.

Paul Bradshaw, Course Leader on the MA in Multiplatform and Multimedia journalism at Birmingham City University, offered helpful tips and advice for motivating students, to draw them away from their smartphones and out into the community. He said: “It’s important to take students out of a formal newsroom situation and give them an explicit reason to speak to people they might not otherwise encounter. We make sure that they are well-briefed beforehand – both in terms of researching the community they are heading to and also the types of content they might produce while operating as a mobile journalist.

“We tell them that they can only produce material on social platforms, which encourages them to think creatively about video interviews, Twitter threads, Instagram carousels and Snapchat stories. And we emphasise that the priority here is building relationships and contacts, not the stories themselves.”

Georgina Prodromou, Special Correspondent for Bauer Media, spoke about her daily experience of getting out of the office to ferret out and capture those news stories others had missed. She talked about how her courage in constantly mixing with, and speaking to, the public and following her news instinct had led to a range of exclusives, ranging from sensitive insights to scoops from MPs at protests.

BJTC Chief Executive Jon Godel summed up the conference: “The sessions we ran on the day provided a fascinating insight into the cutting-edge use of AI in the newsroom, as well as debating what kind of journalism will we have if talking to real people becomes a dying art.”

Find out more about LSBU’s journalism training degree courses and about Elephant Studios and our newsroom facilities.