Artificial Intelligence is stealthily altering how news is made and how the public finds information


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proving both a blessing and a bane for news publishers. On the one hand, generative AI technologies promise productivity gains for newsrooms when used responsibly and transparently. However, it also has the potential to create a minefield of misinformation for the public and for journalists to navigate. There’s also the allegation of copyright infringement that news publishers like The New York Times — which filed intellectual property suits against Microsoft and OpenAI — have begun to legally challenge.

These are just a few examples of how AI disrupts news, but there’s another: AI-powered search. In effect, it enables users to input a query, and the search engine — for example, Google’s Search Generative Experience (which debuted a public beta in May 2023) — delivers a succinct answer or “overview” as the top search result. It may so effectively satisfy the user’s quest that they’re less inclined to consider subsequent links to news sites.

Google isn’t the only developer to roll out AI-powered search. Microsoft’s Bing AI, YouChat,, DuckDuckGo’s DuckAssist and other niche search engines have, too.

As the president and CEO of the News/Media Alliance, Danielle Coffey advocates for the association’s more than 2,200 members.

“Over the past several years, the News/Media Alliance has educated the masses about the marketplace imbalance that exists between the Big Tech platforms and publishers. We undertook a study that we submitted to the Department of Justice that provides ample evidence of the direct nexus between Big Tech’s anticompetitive conduct and the harm to publishers — the anticompetitive conduct in search, exorbitant fees, thwarting of competition, ad tech taking of up to 70% and the list goes on,” Coffey said. “With AI, this is an exacerbation of an existing problem. Using publishers’ real-time content through a process known as ‘grounding’ or ‘RAG,’ Retrieval Augmented Generation, could satisfy search queries that would obviate users’ need to click through. This could very likely eviscerate our industry. We are calling on lawmakers once again to counter these anticompetitive tactics.”

Coffey said the News/Media Alliance is working to quantify industry losses related to Generative AI search. She envisions an equitable licensing relationship, for which the AI developers would compensate publishers for content used to train their technologies.

A shift ahead

Francis Wick, president, CEO and board member, Wick Communications

In mid-April, E&P spoke with Francis Wick, president, CEO and board member, and Reilly Kneedler, chief of staff, at Wick Communications — which publishes news titles in 11 states — about their views on AI.

“In the last month, I have come to the realization that AI will not only impact our industry in journalism, but it’s going to have a rippling effect across our entire social structure,” Wick observed. “I think there’s clearly no going back, and those who are first to embrace and understand it have an opportunity.”

Wick expects AI to be integrated into operations across the entire organization. In the newsroom, he expects generative AI tools will ultimately help journalists report better and faster.

“We have a project underway right now, where our executive team is tasked with finding case studies and identifying areas within their operational purview that AI can support and solve, whether that’s circulation, distribution, marketing, scheduling or finance. For all of us, the whole game right now is to really start to embrace and become more aware of how AI can eventually support our efforts as a company,” Wick said.

Wick predicted that AI’s productivity gains will prove “fruitful” for journalism. “But it’s going to take some real reconciling with letting go of what we’ve done and being very open to what we are going to do, and in an industry steeped with history and legacy, that is — culturally — a huge hurdle,” he said.

Reilly Kneedler, chief of staff, Wick Communications

Kneedler spoke about AI-driven search specifically, noting that as much as 35% of their digital traffic is derived from search. “Search is a huge component of all digital news publishers’ businesses, from an advertising, audience and subscription standpoint,” he said. “For us, it is just another push toward our long-term goal: building local one-to-one direct relationships with our audience. That’s something that’s been a driving force behind newsletters, push alerts, SMS text messaging and app downloads for all publishers for a long time. As AI continues to disrupt the space of search … I think those relationships become increasingly important.”

Asked if SEO has become less critical in the context of AI search, Kneedler pushed back on the notion. Even though overviews may get top billing on a search result page, they are still followed by links to other sources, and news publishers should continue to strive to be “at the top of the heap” with SEO and by creating distinctive journalism, he said.

Wick suggested that generative AI is already profoundly changing the news business. “I don’t think everyone understands just how much it has impacted us. The example I would give is: We came up with an AI policy four months ago, and it’ll probably get updated in another four months and another four months after that. This is happening so quickly.”

They crafted their AI policy to mirror what some other organizations, like The Associated Press (AP) have done, including clearly defining a code of ethics. But they’ve also created a culture of adoption, encouraging their journalists to cautiously experiment with AI tools.

It seems that generative AI is here to stay, and generative AI technologies promise productivity gains for newsrooms when used responsibly and transparently.

However, generative AI search is a concern. In response, they’re retooling their newsletter strategy and hosting in-person events. All of their titles have branded mobile apps.

“If you ask me, the biggest challenges are not going to be clicks on Google search; they’re going to be cultural changes to recalibrate to this new reality,” Wick said. “I do think there are some real opportunities for those who are willing to ‘let go.’

“We’re acutely aware of how much revenue has been extracted by Big Tech,” Wick stipulated. “I’ve been heavily involved in some of those efforts. But I also think there’s a real opportunity here — for the first time in my career — where we’re at a tipping point of letting go. And if we let go, I think the future is actually pretty encouraging.”

Finding Neo

Jennifer Bertetto, president and CEO, Trib Total Media and 535media

Lately, as the president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Trib Total Media and 535media, Jennifer Bertetto spends a lot of time strategizing around AI. She spoke with E&P about the opportunities and pain points AI presents.

The two companies co-developed an AI app, MeSearch, which searches the internet, alerting the newsroom to stories and events happening in more than 300 surrounding communities. 

“[MeSearch] delivers those back to us in what we call a ‘focus room’ and gives us a rundown of everything that’s out there on the web in a certain time period to the reporters who cover those communities,” Bertetto explained. “It can help us generate leads for news stories that otherwise we may not be aware of because we can’t possibly scour everything that’s happening in social media or on different blogs in a reasonable amount of time. [MeSearch] can do it in seconds.”

The company leverages AI to create its TribLIVE local verified business directory and to streamline the creation of “partner news.”

They’ve also embraced AI for aggregating police blotters and press releases from government agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). “Those types of things can be served up to us and allow our journalists to follow up,” Bertetto said. “It’s time-saving and helps us produce more content overall. I think it would be foolish not to take advantage of these opportunities because, let’s face it, AI is here. I hope, as an industry, we don’t make the same mistakes that we have in the past and that when we see emerging technology, we don’t ignore it — we don’t marginalize it until it’s too late.”        

Despite being bullish on generative AI, Bertetto is less so about AI-generated search. Early on, she signed up for Google’s beta, and over time, she found that she was using sites like Yelp less and less.

“If I’m in New York City, and I want a great restaurant, I can just ask it to tell me the top five restaurants in New York City,” she said. “I suspect a lot of businesses are going to see that same impact and probably are already.”

The general fear is that generative AI search may so effectively satisfy the user’s quest that they’re less inclined to consider subsequent links to news sites.

She’s seen firsthand the impact AI search has on the news business she leads. She recounted the story of a baby alligator named Neo who’d made a home in the Kiski River. Neo was discovered in the late autumn, and collectively the community worried if he could survive the winter. Miraculously, he did, and in mid-February, he was captured and rehomed to a sanctuary. Sadly, two weeks later, there was a catastrophic fire there, and he perished. The community mourned.

Trib Total Media’s newsroom followed Neo’s story from first sighting to its sad conclusion. Bertetto was thinking about AI search and Neo, and late one night, she typed “Neo the alligator” into Google’s AI prompt field. The overview produced everything there was to know about Neo’s brief life; however, no part of the search result identified the source of the story — TribLIVE.

“That was our story. We own that story,” Bertetto said. “But we were nowhere to be seen. It also highlighted to me that when people receive a generative AI search result, that’s enough. They don’t need to keep scrolling down the page to see the news results. They don’t need to go past that. I started thinking about the implications and how devastating it could be. For, 50% of our traffic comes from organic search.

“If traffic is cut in half, at a minimum, your advertising dollars will follow suit,” she said. Bertetto estimated that Trib Total Media has approximately $2.5 million annually at stake.

“It really became imperative for us to start thinking about this coming technology. … This is not disruption; it could be devastation if we don’t start devising new strategies for having a direct relationship with our customers.”

Bertetto convened a cross-functional team to chart a new course. Their immediate strategies have been to leverage email newsletters for breaking news and to deliver more push notifications. In both cases, when a story breaks, they’ll modify readers’ behavior, leading them to the site or app rather than trusting they’ll find their way via search.

She’s cognizant that not every news publisher has the resources to develop a branded app. Bertetto pondered whether there’s an opportunity for philanthropists and developers to roll out an entry-level solution that’s cost effective for local news and nonprofit publishers.

“There are about 12 other things the team came up with, but we’re trying to take them one at a time, so it’s a reasonable amount of work. Plus, if you do too many things at once, you don’t actually know what’s working and what isn’t,” she said. 

“As an industry, we need thought leaders to come together and share what you’re trying and what’s working for you. If we’re going to collectively find a way forward in a generative AI society, it will take a lot more collaboration and sharing best practices,” she implored.

Bertetto also encouraged fellow publishers to locally meet with their elected representatives, so they’re fully aware of what the loss of local news means to their communities and constituents. Trib Total Media has the benefit of a trust endowment, so they have a little more wiggle room to experiment and get out in front of what’s coming.

“I worry about the publishers that won’t make it by the time a legislative solution comes,” Bertetto said. “A smaller publisher that loses $500,000 — that could be the difference between being in business and not.”

Gretchen A. Peck is a contributing editor to Editor & Publisher. She's reported for E&P since 2010 and welcomes comments at


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