ABU DHABI - Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions are poised to remould the media industry, as they offer to “take the heavy lifting away” from journalists, enabling them to focus dealing with bigger issues, Mike Butcher MBE, Editor-at-large of TechCrunch, told the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

“AI and ML are now being used in very simple financial reporting and that can be very useful because it means you can free up journalists to concentrate on more interesting and higher value types of journalism such as opinion or analysis. And that, I think, will ultimately be positive.”

Butcher, one of the most influential people in European technology and a seasoned tech journalist, said this in an interview on the sidelines of the Global Media Congress (GMC), which began yesterday in Abu Dhabi.

“I don't really believe the idea that a machine can replace human reporters or journalists, because ultimately humans don't want their media and journalism to be automatically delivered by a robot, because people don't really trust robots, but they all trust another human being,” he assured.

Butcher led talks as part of the GMC’s Media Future Labs, a future-focused series of invite-only roundtables made up of experienced industry professionals featuring no-holds barred and honest discussions on the various challenges confronting the media sector, with a focus on how to take the industry forward and ensure its bright future.

Sharing insights on the role of tech disruptors in changing global perceptions of how media should operate, Butcher explained, “Media ultimately still resides on the bastion, the foundations journalism of trying to get to the truth fairly and impartially and that should come out, even if you're using TikTok or Instagram, you should still produce content with those values in mind. But because of the nature of the platforms, you have to do it in a different way. A journalist doing a thread on Twitter will produce a different kind this story compared to perhaps doing it on a video format, but the content and the value still should be the same.”

His remarks are relevant as the dominant reign of social media in the industry is perhaps one of the most controversial issues, if not the most. Statics have revealed that, nowadays, the percentage of people – particularly young adults – getting news from TikTok has tripled since 2020, with the average American viewer watches 80 minutes of TikTok a day – an average that exceeds the combined watch time recorded on both Facebook and Instagram.

Asked what he thinks is the best model in present-day journalism, Butcher cited what is known as the ‘digital-first’ model as the most optimal. “The panels we've run here today at the Global Media Congress in Abu Dhabi, have said repeatedly that media organisations have frequently moved to what is known as digital-first [models], putting digital platforms first, ahead of traditional platforms such as broadcast or print,” he elaborated. “If you look at the technology media journalism, we started years ago producing digital-first ahead of things like print or broadcast and you've seen that happen now inside mainstream media organisations. So, digital first is the new watchword, with some even creating their own digital platforms not just using the ones produced by the technology industry.”

On the role that policymakers can play in supporting the growth of digital media and startups, Butcher noted that “policymakers will hopefully still stand on the side of journalism, and truth and fairness.”

“In many ways, the media industry is looking to policymakers to put pressure on the tech platforms to behave more fairly, to allow media organisations to fund themselves properly, and to not cut them off from sources of funding. Also, it's very important for countries especially for the development of democracy to have a free and fair press. If that is influenced badly by tech platforms, then that can have an ongoing effect, the knock-on effect to democratic institutions. So, it's important for policymakers pay a great deal of attention to that and enable journalism and media to operate independently.”

This topic is necessary to spotlight against a backdrop of increasing monopolisation practiced by big tech across many sectors such as social media, with the responsibility falling on regulatory leaders to back underdogs, startups and independent content creators who struggle to secure funding and ultimately expand, due to the power levers that big tech hold in the market.

Speaking of his experience working at TechCrunch, an American online newspaper that is considered a leader and disruptor in the field of tech journalism, providing honest and insightful coverage of activity across technology, startups, venture capital funding, and Silicon Valley, Butcher said that they had to adapt very quickly to produce new kinds of content, new kinds of formats. “It's been a revolution inside the journalism industry, and it's been very exciting.”