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Early lessons from 10th Street


About a month ago, we introduced a new feature called The 10th Street Journal that uses artificial intelligence to produce stories of public interest  — articles about road construction, event announcements and holiday closures.

We’ve noticed a few common themes in the first 36 articles we’ve published:

1. AI is hungry

Six stories we’ve published mention events with food: “a welcome reception featuring hors d’oeuvres,” “refreshments will be served,” “snacks will be provided,” “beer and food will be on-site for purchase,” “global food vendors,” “the ceremony, which will include dinner.” 

A seventh is an event about food. 

(This is partly because of the humans involved. We choose press releases from official sources as our inputs for the AI. Our AI has a knack for emphasizing the food.)

2. AI needs an editor

Like a student in an Introduction to Newswriting course, AI needs editing (and sometimes, re-editing.) We’ve noticed it doesn’t yet have a firm grasp on AP Style, and sometimes it gets facts wrong that we need to correct. A favorite: a story about RDU’s growth in the number of passengers initially referred to RDU as San Francisco International Airport.

We also noted that AI tends to favor starting headlines with the word “Durham.” Of the first 36 articles, 16 began with Durham. (We’re being more careful to avoid that repetition.)

3. But … 10th Street produces valuable journalism

Most of our stories fall into one of several buckets:. 

  • Schools, where AI wrote about new year-round schooling options, school nutrition, scholarships and science fair prizes
  • Civic engagement, with stories about a new center for at-risk youth, a design contest for a new county bus, and ways to share input on governmental offices
  • Infrastructure. We let you know when lanes would close overnight on I-885 or downtown on Blackwell Street. We told you about holiday schedules and the closure of a neighborhood pool.
  • Culture. AI wrote about an upcoming international beer festival, new art for the Wheels Roller Skating Rink and Sylvan Esso’s Good Moon Festival.

4. We’re having fun

The 10th Street name itself (a reference to a non-existent road) is a wink to the fact that we are using AI – and we’re continuing to find ways to bring a fun element to the content that AI produces.

In addition to our news briefs, we also produce a weekly AI-written newsletter that we’ve enhanced with AI-generated art. We illustrate one or two stories in each edition using images produced by DALL-E, and it’s been fun to see how it interprets a child drawing a thank you picture for the sheriff, or the newly renamed Coach K Highway.

We’re excited to be on the forefront of AI in journalism. We welcome your feedback (and suggestions of events – regardless of whether food will be served!).