Microsoft’s AI Tools for Newsrooms

Big tech and the news media industry aren’t exactly on the best of terms.
Google, Facebook and to a lesser extent Apple are regarded with suspicion at best.
Against this backdrop Microsoft seems to be painting itself as the ‘good guy’, hosting an invite-only event in London earlier in the week to explain to British and European publishers how its new AI-driven technology will transform journalism.
Read on to learn more about how Microsoft Azure AI could help newsrooms.

Microsoft and the news business

Interestingly – Microsoft is already the number one news service on multi-platform and desktop, reaching 500 million monthly readers through properties like MSN, Edge, apps and other channels.
None of the articles are written by anybody at Microsoft – they partner with 1,200 publishers and 4,500 news brands to the tune of 170,000 pieces of content each day!
The service is produced in 31 languages, across 81 countries, by 800 editors in 50 locations – so it seems fair to assume that Microsoft understand the news business very well.
Microsoft want to be more than a destination for news though – they want to become deeply integrated into the technological infrastructure of newsrooms, and a key partner in the news gathering process.
How can their technology help?

What can Microsoft Azure AI do for publishers?

A key part of their offer is the Content Insights and Discovery Accelerator (IDA).
What is it?

“An out-of-the-box, newsroom-ready solution which uses Azure AI to rapidly index vast quantities of data, such as documents, photos, emails, PDFs, audio and video. It then extracts key entities like people, places, things and dates, intelligently finds connections between them”

IDA works in any modern web browser, and no coding skill is required to make use of the technology.
The idea is that new tools will vastly speed up investigative journalism by allowing huge swathes of data to be combed in a fraction of the normal time.

“Our news partners tell us that a top concern is creating well-researched, contextualized reporting and commentary at a pace that matches the ever-accelerating news cycle, and that a key blocker is the time and inefficiency of manual research”

Without proper organisation, rich sets of data can easily become unmanageable, wasting the time of journalists and the resources of the newsroom.

Content Insights and Discovery Accelerator in action

The Atlantic partnered with Microsoft to experiment with IDA and their 160+ years of archives. According to Microsoft they have been able to:

“Rapidly unlock insight and discover hidden connections in their century-and-a-half archive of news, photography, poetry, stories, advertisements and magazine formats that have changed dramatically over decades”

Check this video out for more.

The IDA tools were built within Microsoft’s larger Azure cloud infrastructure.
Other innovations announced will allow video interviews to be instantly transcribed in 40 languages, and AI tools will mimic journalist’s voices to distribute content through audio formats.

Is Microsoft the big tech ally of publishers?

Rob Bennett, Microsoft’s editor-in-chief and manager of global content told The Drum that:

“We view our role at Microsoft as being able to contribute our scale, our resources, our technology, to partner with the news industry and help create a sustainable, vibrant ecosystem of distribution, content creation, content curation and really help everyone play to their strengths in that ecosystem”

Microsoft have been in the news business for 25 years, before Google and Facebook were even around.
Is this the kind of collaboration with big tech that the news industry needs? Will Microsoft Azure AI tools and their IDA revolutionise newsroom workflows?
You can read more in this piece from The Drum and check out Microsoft’s description of the tools here.

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