WNIJ Embraces YESEO to Boost their Newsroom

When Jenna Dooley discovered YESEO through a collaboration between other Illinois public radio stations, she decided to give it a shot and the results were instantaneous.

“YESEO ushered in a new era for our newsroom to experience responsible AI as a tool, not competition,” Dooley said. “In part by running the YESEO app for just a few seconds to generate suggested keywords, we saw our biggest digital engagement for a story in over a year. We have maximized the reach of our reporting by integrating the app into the daily workflow, which is especially crucial for an outlet of our size.”

Northern Public Radio LogoNorthern Public Radio serves the cities of DeKalb and Rockford and is located at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. It has been in service for almost 70 years through its radio stations WNIJ, WNIU and its website. They have three full time reporters and an overall staff of around 25 people. With that size of a staff, they have to work efficiently.

“What's most important for me is a way we can maximize how many people see our local reporting,” Dooley said. “We’re a small station. I think for smaller stations that have more limited resources, anything that we can use that doesn't take a lot of time is something that we know that can get a wider audience for our work we’re going to try it out.”

In April, Peter Medlin entered his education story into the /prep command about school discipline in Rockford Public Schools. One of the methods they used from YESEO was to input keywords into their CMS that YESEO identified from their story.Initial Message from YESEO on WNIJ Story

This story shot up their rankings as one of the highest performing stories in 2023. It generated the highest Google Search traffic and pageviews for a locally produced story on Northern Public Radio in more than a year.

Keywords on that story included: Auburn, RPS, Rockford, school discipline, student behavior, suspensions.WNIJ Story on the Web

They hardly have time to slow down considering the amount of stories they look to produce every day, so getting assistance via YESEO has proven to be vital for them.

“I think what set YESEO apart was it could integrate into something we were already using to communicate: Slack,” Dooley said. “Every reporter already has that up all day every day, so it’s not like opening another platform or remembering another password. It’s right there in our current workflow and the commands are really easy.”

“We did quick training. I think every reporter is going to embrace it just a little bit differently, but the reporters who see the value of taking an extra 30 seconds to run YESEO are going to see the results and that benefits their work.”

It helps that YESEO supports languages other than English, where WNIJ can also get data for their Spanish language translated stories.

One of the things they needed to confront in this process was the ethical discussion of using machine learning or AI in their newsroom. But what made Dooley comfortable using YESEO is that it was made through the Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship program.

“We don't want to pick up everything that's a new toy that promises to be something with AI and SEO,” Dooley said. “We felt really comfortable because it was developed with ethics in mind through [RJI]. The developer is transparent about how it was created, what it was supposed to be used for.”

WNIJ is run through Northern Illinois University and serves DeKalb and Rockford counties through a newsroom of a few reporters. They had decided that they don’t want AI to write stories for them, but given the work they do on gathering and sourcing their stories, YESEO fits perfectly to help them get their stories read.

“We still maintain control where there’s five recommendations for a headline and we can see which one works best for us and we can tweak it as well,” Dooley said. “We tested it out pretty early on with the story our education reporter did, and it performed really, really well.”

In one of the first events Ryan Restivo presented at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association Spring Convention in late April, after Restivo presented remotely the first question came from Dooley. It wasn’t a question as much as it was an endorsement of how well YESEO had already helped her newsroom.

“Fact of the matter is AI is here,” Dooley said of being a part of planning the INBA convention programming. “How can we at least make sure we're discussing how individual newsrooms are going to embrace it in a way that's comfortable, but also not intimidating?”

“This is what the developer looks like. This is a human so when you're putting in a command, yes, there's an automated factor to it, but there is a human behind it. So I think that kind of helps build trust with reporters to say, you got questions about how it was created? Ask.”

It helps that YESEO supports languages other than English, where WNIJ can also get data for their Spanish language translated stories.

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