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Reflections from our San Francisco Study Tour

As every year, our fellows went on a study tour to Silicon Valley. And we don’t want to withhold from you what they learned there, so read about the insights the fellows gained and how they experienced the fascinating ecosystem of Silicon Valley.

January 2024

Every year we bring our cohort of fellows on a weeks research and study trip to Silicon Valley. We go Silicon Valley because it is the innovation hub of the world. Home to the tech companies that affect our professional and private lives more than we sometimes care to admit. Home to some of the best universities in the world. Birthplace of some of the most influential social movements in the world. And not least – home to innovative and dedicated news organizations and media. Including our close friends and the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford. 

In the last couple of years big tech has distanced themselves from journalism. A move that has been very noticeable. But with the AI as the next wave in the innovation cycle it feels more important than ever to keep an eye on Silicon Valley and try to engage with the companies and communities who are developing these revolutionary technologies.

Some of the key takeaways:

Community and audience engagement is more important than ever.

Many of the media outlets we met including KQED, Calmatters, The Chronicle and San Francisco Public Press are experimenting with new ways doing journalism with and for communities. Many have actually done so for years. There is optimism that we can actually fund good quality journalism through community and audience engagement. An implication of this is that we also need to reconsider how we measure impact. We need to move beyond clicks and shares and have a better understanding of how the communities we cover are impacted.

Stay close to technology.

The question of AI in journalism presents a dual-edged sword: on one hand, it offers unprecedented opportunities for enhancing our reporting capabilities, personalizing content for readers, and automating trivial tasks. On the flip side, it poses significant ethical questions and concerns about accuracy, bias, and the very nature of journalistic reporting. The news industry needs to be part of the conversation around the development and implementation of AI with journalism first in mind to ensure that ethical standards and journalistic integrity are embedded in these new tools. We cannot leave that to the technology companies – we have a responsibility. And the people we met in the field welcome these conversations.

Shaping the narrative around AI.

AI is not only a tool for journalism. It is also one of the most important reporting fields we have to cover right now. Journalism holds a crucial role in shaping the narrative around AI into our daily lives. We already know the headlines: “AI can destroy humanity” or “AI has the potential to cure all diseases”. We need a balanced coverage of the benefits and drawbacks of AI and guide the conversation towards constructive outcomes. Journalism can help demystify technology for the general public, and ensure that the narrative is not controlled by the technology companies. 

Over the course of a week we had the privilege to meet with insightful people from tech, academia and journalism to discuss the future of journalism, media and democracy in the era of AI. Thank you to all the amazing people we met and who were generous with their time and thoughts. We return from Silicon Valley as optimists.

It was great to experience how the Silicon Valley ecosystem works firsthand. This time, the trip to San Francisco was very topical since everybody there is talking about AI and how it will revolutionize everything. I believe it is true and we must start preparing ourselves for the change and ask ourselves what are the skills journalists need in the future. One thing is sure, nobody can stop technological development and the question is more about how we adjust. And I think this is a question which we will ask ourselves for a while now since AI applications are developing at a fast pace.

Hannu Tikkala

Fellow who participated in 2024 Study Tour to San Francisco