Stockholm-based IN/LAB is a joint venture between Schibsted and the Tinius Trust and works internationally in Schibsted’s markets. The team shares a close relationship with the Schibsted editorial and product teams built on the common need for innovation. 

Agnes Stenbom, Head of IN/LAB, Schibsted, joined WAN-IFRA’s recent World News Media Congress 2023 in Taipei to talk about how the team is exploring futures at the intersection of journalism, technology and democracy, in ways that resonate with GenZ audiences.

‘AI won’t magically solve our problems’

Stenbom said news media companies should start thinking about ways in which futures could look different from the past.

For instance, with artificial intelligence.

“While AI could open up new experiences, we can’t be certain it will. AI won’t magically solve our problems. It’s up to those within news organisations to start paying closer attention to audience needs and shifts,” she said. 

IN/LAB has been working on a concept to remind publishers of the several different futures they could aspire to – where some of these futures are more plausible or probable than others.

“It’s imperative we start stretching out this cone and start imagining what these possible futures could mean for us, which our industry has not yet done,” she said.

Correlating her example of AI in the context of the past and the future, Stenbom said that even when exploring potentially radically transformative technologies, publishers continue to tie this technological potential quite close to practices of the past.

36% of news consumers show news avoidance often or sometimes. Research at @IN__LAB, shows people feel news has a negative impact on their mental health. It’s a problem for news orgs but fundamentally a prob for news consumers: @AgnesStenbom from @SchibstedGroup at #WNMC23

— Neha (@nehahaz) June 29, 2023

AI through the GenZ lens

To combat this challenge, the IN/LAB team thinks it’s crucial that publishers start talking with young audiences who are not invested in traditional ways of consuming content.

An IN/LAB project that illustrates this approach is the News Changemaker program.

The team hired 10 teenagers, aged 16-19, from a youth recreation centre in one of the most crime-ridden areas in Stockholm. This 10-week long paid assignment invited them to come into Schibsted and work in prototyping future news experiences.

“We wanted to talk with this group – not about them. So we brought them into our organisation to work together,” she said. 

AI played a fundamental role in the way these young adults looked at future news experiences, Stenbom noted. “They are innovative and empathic, and they put human beings and their wellbeing front and centre,” she said.

Below are three news products these youngsters designed through the course of the programme: 

News Clinic: This product is about news media taking more of an active approach to safeguarding the mental health of its news consumers. This speculative product aids consumers in their news consumption by an on-demand news therapist, which is an AI avatar. This AI-therapist can be activated either automatically or manually. 

It’s Time: A news service that challenges the logic of optimising for time spent. The idea here is that news businesses should optimise for informing consumers in as little time as possible. This service provides news consumers a weekly budget, where they can only consume the product for seven hours per week, one hour per day, 30 minutes in one go. 

Once they consume the product for 30 minutes, it automatically self-destructs and cannot be opened for the next two hours. 

News Sound: This concept asks a basic question – what if the news was music? The idea here is that publishers convert written news stories into AI-generated music.

IN/LAB built and tested this product on Aftonbladet, the largest news destination in Sweden with 5 million daily consumers. With AI-generated rap songs based on news articles, young consumers enjoyed the product and user feedback was excellent, Stenbom said.

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