Journalist’s Shouldn’t Fear an AI-Powered Slack

Credit: DALL-E

“Your conversations are stories,” is something senior editors used to tell writers at Mashable, where I served as Tech Editor for a few years.

It was a smart observation born out of spending all day on Slack (and before that, Campfire), where reporters and editors would, of course, chat about all the stories they’re looking at, then proceed to comment, joke, and occasionally take topics down rabbit holes. Someone saying, “You’ve gotta write a story about this” was typically all the motivation a writer needed to turn a Slack thread into content, and editors would repeat the conversations-as-stories reminder at many meetings to ensure it happened as often as possible.

Now technology can do one better: Slack itself can write a story about this — “this” being a thread or series of posts in a Slack room — summarizing long, unwieldy conversations into comprehensible prose. On Wednesday Slack announced new AI-powered features, including generative recaps of conversations threads and rooms, meant for users who either went on vacation or took a long lunch right when several people were typing.

For journalists, though, the features could prove even more useful. “Slack AI” has the potential to give them a set of initial notes, or even a first draft, of a story idea without needing to spend a few hours searching through Slack threads and copying-and-pasting various threads into bullet points (been there). Slack is a notoriously bad archiving tool — if the item you’re looking for isn’t in the last couple of dozen messages in a particular room, it can be very hard to pinpoint — but it’s a problem well suited to generative AI’s ability to find patterns in chaos.

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Like Semafor Signals, the new Slack AI features are another sign of where GenAI can make the most difference in newsrooms right now: news gathering. Last year there was a big emphasis on AI in news production, but many of those experiments ended up creating substandard content if not outright scandal. Most credible newsrooms are no longer considering AI as a solution for producing content at scale.

But using AI as either an assistant or “agent” to discover, summarize, and ideate news stories? That’s an ideal role for AI at this stage in the evolution, where hallucinations are still a major issue that needs guardrails and breeds distrust among reporters. 

To be clear, I haven’t used Slack AI features and can’t speak to the quality of its summaries. It’s possible a reporter might get better results by simply copying and pasting Slack threads into ChatGPT or a custom AI tool like MindStudio*. But arguably the best thing about this Slack upgrade is that it puts the tools to do that right where journalists are already working. The only downside is the cost: like many AI-powered features, Slack AI is a premium add-on, and this isn’t exactly a time when newsrooms are flush with cash

But if Slack’s new features let reporters see the value of AI by simplifying the process of turning conversations into stories, it could begin to ebb away at the stigma of using generative AI in news, one thread at a time.

*MindStudio is a platform partner of The Media Copilot.

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