Call for Abstracts: Robots, recommenders and responsibility: where should the media go with AI?

AI-driven tools play an increasingly important role on many levels of the process of making and distributing news. In the field of journalism, this ranges from smart tools that assist journalists in producing their stories to the fully automated production of news stories (robot journalism), and from audience analytics that inform editorial board decisions to the AI-driven recommendation of which contents and users to match. As such, AI-driven tools are more than simple tools. They are part of a more structural transformation of what it means to make news, to engage with the audience, and to be an informed citizen.

The integration of AI-driven tools into the journalistic process raises not only a host of challenging professional, technical and organizational questions. Intense debates about filter bubbles, privacy, shifting power dynamics, gatekeeping, editorial independence and the metrification of journalistic values and fundamental rights also touch upon the legal, ethical, societal and democratic implications that the use of AI in the media can have. So far, much of the discussion has centered around social media platforms. But what are the implications of the introduction of AI-driven tools for the legacy media and its role of informing, being a critical watchdog and providing a forum for public debate? What are the implications of the ongoing trend to automatisation for the realisation of public values and fundamental rights? How do new legal frameworks, such as the GDPR or the plans of the EC to regulate AI affect the media? And are the existing journalistic codes and professional principles useful to guide journalists and editors in an age of AI?

The goal of this symposium is to discuss the societal and democratic role of AI-driven tools in the media, the fundamental rights at stake, and the ethical, legal and technological (design) conditions need to ensure that algorithms and AI create opportunities, and not threats for our democracy. This cannot be done from the perspective of one or two disciplines alone. We therefore hope to bring together a community of scholars from journalism and media studies, communication and computer science, law, STS, economics and whoever has an interest to contribute, despite his or her disciplinary affiliations. Together, such a group of scholars could have a true impact on how algorithms and AI can make a difference for the better in media and democracy – for academia and society.

We invite papers on, for example:

  • how journalists, editors and media corporations use AI and algorithms to contribute to, and expand on their editorial mission, for example through news recommenders and robot journalism;
  • on how the introduction of digital technologies changes our very idea of news, and what it means to be an informed citizen;
  • investigations into the shifts of powers, roles and responsibilities, and new gatekeeper positions as a result of the introduction of AI in the journalistic process;
  • studies into the way how the use of AI and algorithms in the media affect the ability of citizens to benefit from their right to freedom of expression, to form and hold opinions, and make informed political choices;
  • how journalistic and public values such as diversity, objectivity, relevance, etc. can be translated and preserved in algorithmic design and routines;
  • governance of the use of data, AI and algorithms in the news media;
  • proposals on the maintenance of accountability and public oversight over editorial AI, including the roles and responsibilities of different regulatory authorities, but also the role of public institutions in supporting and stimulating technological innovation in the newsmedia;
  • the influence of different national, cultural and societal contexts for the assessment of above questions.

We invite specifically young scholars to send in their work, and also encourage work in progress. Please send in an abstract of 500 words to

Important dates:

  • Deadline for abstracts is 3 February 2020.
  • Notification of acceptance around 21st of February.
  • Deadline for the final papers (or advanced draft) is on 25th of May.
  • The data of the conference is 24 and 25 of June 2020.
  • We explore the possibility to facilitate the publication of a selection of articles in a (leading) journal.  

We have deliberately chosen for a small-scale event, with maximal time for discussion and engagement. A selected number of papers will be presented and commented on by one or two commentators, followed by a plenary discussion. Next to presenters and commentators, a limited number of places is available for non-active participants. 

We have limited travel funds available for those who lack the means to pay for travel to attend the symposium. Please only apply for a travel grant if there is no other way for you to attend the conference. Priority will be given to speakers and commenters. To apply for (partial) refunds of your travel costs, please send a brief justification of the need for financial support, the estimated costs and a declaration that the applicant will not be able to attend without financial support from some source external to their own institution.

This symposium is made possible with the help of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and an ERC grant for the PersoNews project – an ERC-funded project that looks into the implications of AI and algorithms for the democratic role of the digital media, user rights and public information policy.

For further questions and information, please contact:
Prof. Dr. Natali Helberger, 

10 december 2019