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Published 2023-05-26

News as music – Aftonbladet and IN/LAB explore the journalism of the future

A news service that presents news to the beat of AI-generated music – or as an AI-generated rap song. Aftonbladet and Schibsted’s innovation lab IN/LAB are now using AI to help in an experiment to get more young people to participate in independent journalism.

News Changemaker Programme's Zakaria Bileh, Jumane Murad and Nardos Abrha flanked by Aftonbladet's Martin Schori to the left and IN/LAB's Agnes Stenbom and Belenn Bekele to the right

In the fall of 2022, innovation lab IN/LAB, founded by Schibsted News Media and Tinius Foundation, brought together young people from Stockholm’s outer city areas in a “News Changemaker Program.” The aim was to understand the challenges of traditional media when it comes to reaching population groups that increasingly avoid the news, and the group had a mission: to come up with product ideas that can make more young people feel trust in editorial media and discover the strength of free and independent journalism.

The new AI-generated news service “News as music” is the tangible result of that work. Recently, the service was rigorously tested on Aftonbladet.se for 1,000 selected young users. The response was positive, both from the test subjects and the young people who came up with the original idea.

“It feels surreal that our idea is something that could be developed into a prototype that more people can take part in,” says participant Jumane.

“News as music” is the latest experiment launched by IN/LAB. Aftonbladet’s readers get the opportunity to partake in news in the form of music.

It was an obvious choice for Aftonbladetl to make resources available to carry out the project and test the idea.

“We are doing this because the media industry needs to be seriously challenged. All surveys show that young people like news, but not the way we present it. ‘News as music’ is an example of how it could be done in the future. This may not exactly be the future, but it is quite clear that we need to try our hand at it, challenge old conventions and listen to the news consumers of the future,” says Martin Schori, deputy editor-in-chief at Aftonbladet.

With “News as music,” readers can choose between reading summarized news texts themselves to the beat of AI-generated music that enhances the experience. About half of the test users chose to take part in the two different experiences, but by far the most popular “news song” was a rap about Beyoncé’s visit to Stockholm.

A review from the world premiere of Beyoncé’s new show got put through the AI.

“I like both experiences, depending on what mood I’m in. The instrumental part felt good because it gave the news some feeling. I really liked the rap because it made the news experience fun,” says News Changemaker participant Jumane.

The experience has been developed in collaboration with the design agency EY Doberman. The core is music as a tool for deeper engagement and understanding.

The experiment raises ethical questions about how a future with AI could affect several industries.

“An obvious question is what happens to the copyright around AI-generated music? The AI-generated rap is also, as hip-hop tends to be, loaded with values. This is not how we traditionally report news, where instead we strive to be neutral,” says Martin Schori.

Agnes Stenbom, head of IN/LAB and industrial PhD student in AI at KTH, points to the need to let the media consumers of the future be involved in shaping how the media use AI.

“It’s important that we explore the possibility of using these technological possibilities to reach new target groups, not least when it comes to younger generations who have grown up in an already digitized information landscape. They see different opportunities than those who are already invested in traditional media formats,” says Agnes Stenbom.

Read more on Aftonbladet (in Swedish).