Agnes Stenbom has a dual career in journalism and technology. She is a Responsible Data & AI Specialist at one of Scandinavia’s biggest media groups, Schibsted, as well as an academic researcher at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. In this new episode of our interview series with women working on the intersection of AI and journalism, Agnes shares the insights gained from her hybrid role and what excites her the most about the potential of AI.
JournalismAI: Could you describe an average day in your role?
Agnes: I have a very varied job, so that’s not an easy task! Among other things, at Schibsted I co-lead the company’s AI strategy, by trying to understand how we can nurture and grow the potential of AI across the entire group. I work on studies inside and outside the newsroom, to try to uncover where we stand today, where we want to go in the future and what challenges, both organisational and ethical, we have ahead of us in order to get there. In my academic work, I have a broader and more industry-focused perspective as I am trying to uncover how AI can be sustainably incorporated within newsrooms. Hopefully, the insights from my research will have an impact on my work at Schibsted as well.
What was the initial spark that drew you to this particular career path?
Even though I am interested in data and AI, they are not what originally drew me to this position. I am interested in technology-driven change and more specifically in what new tools can do for the people working in the media industry, as well as the users of media products. The media has been my interest ever since I was a child. Back then, one of my favourite hobbies was to make my own newspaper and my dream job was to become an editor in chief. This dream evolved as I grew older and as society evolved with digital transformation.
From a strategic viewpoint, was it difficult for the newsroom to adopt new practices and an AI-driven approach?
Change is something that has always taken place in newsrooms. From a strategic standpoint, it is quite challenging to adapt to all these new changes, but it is also an exciting opportunity. Change always requires new ways of thinking and collaborating. Furthermore, it offers us new possibilities to serve the public with information. One of the key things that AI requires us to do is to not just think of technology as an enabler that spreads human-created content. We should also be thinking of how humans, technology and AI systems can create new products together. This dynamic approach creates a very interesting hybridisation process that requires a multidisciplinary approach.
Many people proclaim that AI adoption is the biggest shift the media industry has ever experienced. Maybe it is. But we should not forget that journalism has evolved from hand-written text to the printed press, and then to computers and mobile phones. It would be a huge mistake to disregard the lessons taught to us from the industry transformations of the past. We should see which of those lessons apply to AI and use them to better serve the public.
Is this change in the media industry being resisted?
Resistance is a very strong word. I would not go as far as to say that people in the media industry resist change, although there are definitely some valid concerns coming from the workforce. There is a big discussion in today’s society about jobs being taken away by technology, or humans being replaced by AI systems. I acknowledge those concerns, but they don’t necessarily find anchoring in reality. The main goal of people with a strategic role within the industry, like myself, should be to explain that jobs are not being taken away by technology and AI systems – they are just changing. So within this context, we should find new ways to collaborate not only with other humans working in the industry but with technology as well.
The fields of technology and AI are male-dominated. In your experience, what can be done to address the issue of gender inequality?
I believe that we need more people with a sense of agency and ownership, regardless of their gender, age, or background. I am not a data scientist or an engineer, so my contribution does not lie in building models, preparing the data, or creating datasets. My work contributes and adds value elsewhere. I am not saying that the way to get more women to work in AI in journalism is to not have them build the technology. I am saying that If you are a woman or a person who does not fit within the stereotypical idea of the technology or media workforce, you should find your way to contribute to the industry. I firmly believe that the future of the field is going to be built by people with different kinds and levels of competencies and nothing should discourage you from trying to break the glass ceiling.
What advice would you give to young women who might want to follow your career path at the intersection of journalism and technology?
One of the many challenges for young women are the biases in recruitment. Employers tend to recruit people who are like them, people that they know of, or people that they have met somewhere. So, one piece of advice would be to try and make your way into the journalism+AI community by engaging and networking. For example, the Polis/LSE JournalismAI project is a great way to start networking with like-minded professionals if you want to work in this field.
What are you most excited to see in the near future of AI in journalism?
I am excited about the opportunity that AI offers to the democratisation of information. I think that many of us in the media industry have a slightly false idea that more information will always be the answer. For example, we like to think that if people had more information about COVID-19’s dangers they would stay at home or if they just had more information on the climate crisis, they will suddenly change all of their behaviours. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. However, if we believe that getting the right information in the hands of people will be useful for our democracies, then AI technologies give us an immense power to do so. With the help of language AI, we can simplify information, break down the news into smaller pieces of digestible content. We can translate information in different languages for all the communities that might need it and, last but not least, we can illustrate information and data in clear and effective ways. There are so many ways we can use AI to help bring information to those who need it. So, getting information to the hands of the people is what I am most excited to see in the near future.
The interview was conducted by Panayiotis Zamis, POLIS intern and LSE’s MSc Student. It is part of a JournalismAI interview series with women working at the intersection of journalism and artificial intelligence.
Agnes is part of our JournalismAI Collab, a global collaboration to experiment with AI. If you want to stay informed about the Collab and follow our activities, you can sign up for the monthly newsletter.