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Navigating the tides of change in the AI era: from scepticism to acceptance

Drawing from a career in journalism, exploring how the digital revolution forever reshaped media: What can it teach us about adapting to AI? Ignoring the inevitable isn't an option.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock. Credit: Anna

The AI revolution is here, and it's set to reshape the creative industry with a speed and ferocity that none of us can yet fathom. Its advancement is so staggering that even as I write this, I feel many steps behind.

No one can predict how things will play out. Yet the patterns emerging today echo the seismic shifts I witnessed firsthand throughout my career in journalism.

In the late 1990s, when I began studying journalism at Preston, the Internet was starting to change how we consumed news and entertainment. By my final year, we faced a pivotal choice: print, broadcast or online media. Most opted for the traditional paths, viewing online with scepticism, even mockery. But that sentiment soon turned to concern. Following my graduation in 2000, the print industry was beginning to grapple with a stark reality. In the following years, newspaper circulations plummeted as digital platforms delivered news with unprecedented speed and accessibility. Advertisers, drawn by the allure of digital's incredible targeting capabilities and expansive reach, shifted their budgets online, leaving many traditional outlets financially adrift.

By the mid-2000s, my career in broadcast journalism was on the brink of extinction. Radio, once vibrant and alive, was now dying. Overnight, a bustling newsroom faced redundancy, and its accompanying workforce – salespeople, advertising managers, and creatives – dwindled in the blink of an eye. I was one of its many casualties, left to face the harsh reality of a changing industry.

Listening to the advice of my then-editor (thank you, Colin), I transitioned to PR and marketing. It was a wise move, as faced with declining sales, many newsrooms either consolidated, were acquired or shut down. This only intensified during the financial crisis of 2008. It was heartbreaking to see. Circulation and print advertising revenues dropped by over half from 2008 to 2018, from nearly £7 billion to just over £3 billion. Over the same time, the number of frontline print journalists dropped by over 25% - from around 23,000 in 2007 to 17,000 in 2017.

However, amidst the chaos, some saw the changing tides as an opportunity for growth and survival. Outlets pivoted online, some carving out successful digital niches. The Guardian and The New Yorker are shining examples of this resilience; they embraced digital formats and innovated with podcasts and video content, staying relevant and even thriving. The New Yorker, in particular, leveraged its journalistic credibility to enhance subscription models and transformed itself into an aspirational brand that is now beloved by people not just in the Big Apple but all over the world.

Plus, there were some outliers like myself, who could launch an online magazine with little to no budget, build a huge loyal audience, and eventually transform an idea into a thriving venture – a feat entirely impossible before the arrival of digital. 

Today, we stand at another technological frontier as AI influences the creative industry. Just as the internet era introduced a whole heap of challenges, it also ushered in opportunities for innovation and reinvention. The traditional way content is delivered and monetised has been disrupted but has also been diversified. Opportunities continue to present themselves: look at the saturation of social media with advertisements and growing user fatigue – this signals the potential for a renewed appreciation of quality over quantity. As we've seen, advertisers follow the eyes and ears of consumers. With the public growing increasingly wary of invasive ads and data privacy breaches, there's a burgeoning demand for content that respects user experience and privacy.

As we navigate the AI revolution, lessons from the past become abundantly clear. We must adapt to survive. Much like the media industry, resilient as ever, we must find ways to evolve. Just like newspapers and magazines have had to find new ways to engage audiences and redefine their value proposition, we must do the same. 

Reflecting on those early sceptics among my peers, who once brushed off the potential of online media, I predict their journey likely mirrors the broader media evolution – from scepticism to reluctant acceptance and perhaps even to eventual embrace. Those who adapted thrived, while those who resisted were left to reckon with a transformed landscape. I don't know exactly what became of each of them, but if their paths were anything like mine, they learned that innovation doesn't pause for doubters. It races on, ready or not.


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