How AI can help with news storytelling
In 2017, I shared my vision of how AI could revolutionize journalism by empowering journalists to create personalized storytelling experiences for readers. Back then, as chief technology & product officer at The Wall Street Journal, I envisioned AI crafting customized versions of a news story for different reader personas by reassembling modular content components. I used the example of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods to illustrate how a single news event could be tailored into distinct stories for investors, health-conscious shoppers, and local community members.
Fast forward to 2023, and this vision is no longer a concept—it’s a reality. The advancements in natural language processing and generation have made AI-powered personalized storytelling not only feasible but also practical, economical, and quicker to implement. Let’s delve into how this vision has materialized over the years.
To demonstrate how AI might aid reporters today, I used my Ragbot.AI Assistant to generate personalized versions of a news story on Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods for different reader personas: investors, health-conscious shoppers, and local community members. Ragbot.AI is powered by multiple large language models including OpenAI’s GPT-4, Anthropic’s Claude-v1-100K, and open source LLMs. The future of news will indeed be “superpowered” by AI supporting and empowering journalists. AI is a tool, not a cure-all, and it works best when guided by human judgment, values and the pursuit of public-interest journalism.
After viewing the four example versions of the news story below, continue reading this blog post to learn more about the relationship between Natural Language AI and journalism.
Story Personalization using AI: Examples
Below are three versions of a base news story. All four versions here were generated using Ragbot.AI.
Comprehensive Version of News Story
(This is an imaginary version representing what could be written by journalists. Since it is meant to serve as an example, I generated it using my Ragbot.AI Assistant)
Amazon Acquires Whole Foods
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, announced today that it has acquired Whole Foods Market, the organic grocery store chain, for $13.7 billion. The deal represents Amazon’s biggest foray into brick-and-mortar retail and a bet that consumers will flock to stores to buy groceries.
Whole Foods has more than 460 stores across the United States, Canada and Britain, which will now be part of Amazon’s growing empire. The deal is expected to close in the latter part of 2017, subject to approval from Whole Foods shareholders and regulators.
Investors cheered the news, sending shares of Amazon up 2.4 percent and Whole Foods up 29 percent. Shares of grocery companies like Costco, Target, Walmart and Kroger were down on the news. The deal could put pressure on the margins of traditional grocers.
Buying Whole Foods will give Amazon more than 460 physical stores and potentially transform how people buy groceries. It would also give Amazon more access to affluent, health-conscious shoppers and more data about their shopping habits. Amazon has long been trying to figure out how to make grocery delivery and pick-up work at large scale. With Whole Foods, Amazon gets the locations, raw ingredients and expertise in fresh food to make it all work.
The implications of the deal are far-reaching for various stakeholders, spanning investors, health-conscious shoppers, and local communities. Investors are optimistic about Amazon’s continued growth into new sectors. However, some shoppers and community members have expressed concerns over potential changes to Whole Foods’ commitment to high-quality, organic and locally-sourced products, as well as effects on employment. Industry experts have offered mixed reactions, highlighting both the deal’s strategic merits as well as possibilities for monopolistic behavior.
Overall, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market promises to usher in a new era for the grocery industry and brick-and-mortar retail. The effects of this deal will likely reverberate for many years to come.
Investor Persona Version
(Generated using Ragbot.AI Assistant)
Amazon’s Strategic Acquisition of Whole Foods: What It Means for Investors
Amazon today announced plans to acquire Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion, in a deal that promises to transform the grocery market and represents a major win for investors. The news sent Amazon’s shares up 2.4% and Whole Foods’ stock rocketing 29% — reflecting an initial positive response from shareholders anticipating healthy long-term gains.
As an Amazon investor, the deal highlights the company’s relentless ambition to expand into new sectors and continue its rapid growth. Whole Foods provides Amazon with a vastly expanded brick-and-mortar footprint, access to an affluent consumer base and valuable data to strengthen its burgeoning grocery services. The acquisition also helps Amazon compete against rival grocers like Walmart, already the nation’s largest grocer.
Some experts have raised concerns about the deal’s effect on competition, with Amazon acquiring more market power. However, others argue that the deal may benefit consumers through lower prices and greater convenience and efficiency.
Overall, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods looks to be a strategic victory and a demonstration of its continuing evolution as a megacompany and the appetite to conquer new retail verticals. For long-term shareholders, the deal promises sustained growth, greater consumer access and additional opportunities for innovation in grocery delivery and in-store shopping experiences. This major acquisition, Amazon’s second-largest ever, reflects your company seizing an opportunity to establish a major foothold in the $650 billion U.S. grocery industry. As an investor, that level of drive and ambition bodes well for the future.
Continued monitoring of regulatory approval, integration and changes under the new ownership will be needed to fully determine the effects of the acquisition. However, initial signals point to a fruitful deal likely to strengthen Amazon’s position for years to come. Overall, it’s an exciting milestone bound to pay dividends for faithful and patient shareholders.
Health Food Enthusiast Persona Version
(Generated using Ragbot.AI Assistant)
Amazon Buys Whole Foods: Will Food Quality Remain the Same?
Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market, announced today, sent shockwaves through the grocery industry. But for health-conscious shoppers drawn to Whole Foods’ sustainable, organic offerings, the deal raises concerns over potential changes under new ownership.
Whole Foods built its brand on providing the highest-quality natural and organic products, with exacting standards for what ends up on its shelves. However, Amazon has primarily focused on competition through low prices and maximizing supply-chain efficiency. There are worries the company may extend its cost-cutting measures to Whole Foods in ways that sacrifice its commitment to organic, non-GMO and locally-sourced products.
In the short term, few major changes are expected. But over time, Amazon may seek to modify Whole Foods’ business model to cut prices and streamline operations. The grocer’s decentralized purchasing model, which works with local farms and producers, may not fit with Amazon’s focus on using data and centralized control to boost efficiency and lower costs.
Healthy and sustainable foods are deeply important to you, so changes that could compromise Whole Foods’ willingness or ability to provide these options are troubling. Of course, lower prices from streamlined operations could also make organic foods more affordable and accessible. The acquisition’s impact depends largely on Amazon’s handling of its new subsidiary.
As a Whole Foods shopper, the best approach is cautious optimism with a readiness to make your voice heard. Continuing to advocate for strong standards around health, environment and ethics will be critical — whether through direct feedback to the companies involved or by supporting independent certification programs.
Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods could make or break the grocery chain’s mission to provide natural and organic food. Health-conscious consumers must remain vigilant and willing to stand up for the kinds of products and supply-chain practices that first made Whole Foods an appealing alternative. The future of responsible sourcing and production depends on us.
Concerned Local Citizen Persona Version
(Generated using Ragbot.AI Assistant)
Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods: What Does It Mean for Your Community?
Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market promises to shake up the grocery industry, but for communities that host the 460 Whole Foods locations, the deal also signals major changes that could impact local employment and livelihoods.
Whole Foods has long made supporting local producers and communities part of its brand mission. However, Amazon is focused above all on speed, automation and efficiency to minimize costs. There are concerns the company may extend its technology-centered approach to Whole Foods in ways that reduce staffing levels in stores or move purchasing toward more centralized models that favor large suppliers over local farms and businesses.
Of course, Amazon’s ownership could also result in lower prices for shoppers and streamlined logistics that smooth out the supply chain. The effects of the merger depend on how Amazon chooses to run its new subsidiary.
For citizens in Whole Foods’ locations across the U.S., Canada and Britain, the deal prompts uncertainties that your communities rely on Whole Foods as an employer and supporter of local innovation. In the short term, Whole Foods’ commitment to “local” is unlikely to change dramatically. But Amazon’s priorities suggest the new parent company may view localized purchasing and community support as costs to minimize over time, rather than an inherent part of the brand.
The future will hinge on citizens voicing support for practices that sustain Whole Foods’ community roots. Locals should highlight for Amazon executives how Whole Foods’ engagement has contributed to the fabric of places it serves. Where changes seem likely to undermine community relationships or livelihoods, speaking up will be key. Amazon has shown willingness to listen to public concerns in the past.
Whole Foods has shaped food systems in communities through its stores. With Amazon at the helm, maintaining that influence will depend on citizens articulating why localization matters for a supermarket brand’s integrity and impact. Our neighborhoods are intricately connected with how and where we buy our food. Whole Foods associates and producers have become neighbors, friends and family—that is worth fighting for. Together, we must ensure both companies recognize communities as vital parts of the supply chain, not just platforms for efficiency or innovation. Our voices can help guide this deal toward a future that sustains both businesses and the places we call home.
Natural Language AI and Journalism Have Always Had a Close Relationship
My friends Richard Socher and Bryan McCann, co-founding CEO and CTO respectively, of the innovative AI company You.com, have been instrumental in progressing these technologies. You.com’s AI leverages neural networks to understand language in context and generate coherent responses – capabilities that would enable tailored news stories like the examples I proposed. (Note: I’ve invested in and have been advising You.com since its founding).
Socher’s and McCann’s own research on recursive neural networks has been foundational in advancing natural language understanding and generation. With innovations like these, AI will continue to enhance certain journalistic functions. Still, human reporters and editors remain essential. This follow-up blog post revisits my views on AI for news media and argues that AI should support journalists, not seek to replace them.
The four versions of the story provided above were generated using my Ragbot.AI AI Assistant1 to demonstrate how AI might aid journalists today in crafting news stories tailored for different readers.
The future of journalism is one of partnership – between human reporters and artificial intelligence. Humans will guide AI with values, ethics and judgment; AI will scale and enhance human capabilities, not replicate them. Together, they will achieve what neither could alone: personalized, purpose-driven stories that engage and inform all of the public at once.
The stories that last, that seek truth and change the world, will be born of this union. AI and journalists both have pivotal roles to play. But in the end, the future of news will be what we choose to make of it – and we must choose wisely. Our shared civic mission is at stake, and our shared humanity is on the line. In that mission and humanity, there is hope – and there is a future worth fighting for.
You can read more about my history with AI and journalism in my blog post Introduction to Generative AI and Large Language Models for Media Business People