Help us break this bot! Or alternatively, Learn a little something about building audiences for your local news outlet

By Erica Perel, CISLM director

For years, my team and I at the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media have bemoaned how hard it is to find helpful journalism resources online.

I’ve been in the business long enough to have seen hundreds of tip sheets, toolkits, roundups, self-directed courses and case studies cross my path, and my previous job as a college media adviser meant that I often curated the best of them for my students.

But the average journalist doesn’t have time to see or remember seeing helpful resources when they come out. Discoverability is as big a problem in journalism support as it is in local news itself.

Instead of re-creating all these great resources, how great would it be to build a giant meta-search of resources across the journalism support world, we thought. Then ChatGPT came out, and with it, questions about whether it would destroy journalism, or help journalism, or maybe do both.

And we wondered: could ChatGPT be the meta-search tool we were dreaming of?

Center Project Manager Sarah Vassello started to investigate whether that would be possible. She leaned heavily on resources and advice from Joe Amditis from the Center for Cooperative Media, who’s been a leader in thinking through AI applications for local news, and called on colleagues at UNC’s Blue Sky Innovations.

The result: A Beta version of a custom Local News Audience Assistant chatGPT, hosted on the CISLM.org website.

Sarah and our Center interns have been building a database of case studies, tip sheets and other resources related to building local news audiences from the last six years. Then they used the database to train the ChatGPT, with instructions to include links and send visitors to the originators of the resource.

We’ve already learned a ton, and we’re ready to share it with the wider world in beta form.

We welcome constructive criticism, from the big picture to the small. Help us figure out the best use cases and the limitations of a resource like this. Help us decide whether it’s worth continuing to invest time and effort to expand beyond audience, improve the interface or find ways to make it more useful. Break this bot! Or learn something about building audiences.