How Journalists Can Begin Using AI

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

The New England First Amendment Coalition launched in 2020 a monthly educational series featuring short, practical lessons on journalism and the First Amendment.

The goal of the program — called “30 Minute Skills” — is to provide reporters and other citizens knowledge they can use immediately in newsgathering, data collection, storytelling and other areas of journalism and First Amendment law.

The lessons are provided in a 30-minute format to accommodate the demanding schedules faced by many working in New England newsrooms. The program is free and open to the public. Registration for each lesson is required.

January 4, 2024 | 12 p.m. ET

While some journalists have responded to newsroom AI with apprehension, the technology’s positive potential is beginning to emerge. Newsrooms of all sizes are starting to embrace the use of AI and incorporate new tools into their operations. This lesson will focus on how individual reporters can use the technology to strengthen their work and to support local journalism. By attending this class, you’ll learn:

• How to use AI for storytelling.
• How to create images using AI.
• How to query and upgrade old documents.

About Your Instructor

Retha Hill is on the faculty of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University where she is the executive director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab. The Lab’s journalism and computer science majors create innovative products, including virtual, augmented and mixed reality apps and content; Web applications; news game tools; social media tools and mobile apps for media clients. On the entrepreneurship side of the Lab, students create their own media companies and products. Hill, an award-winning journalist, is the founder of AncestoriesXR, an extended reality platform that helps families tell their unique genealogy history using video game technology and immersive media. Think Ken Burns storytelling meets video game technology. Hill is a 2020 recipient of a Knight Journalism 360 grant to train African American journalism professors in immersive technology; a 2019 National Association of Broadcasters Pilot winner for a project to create geo-located AR extreme weather visualizations; a 2017 Knight News Challenge Winner for a project to create a virtual reality data tool; a 2015 Knight News Prototype winner to create a narrative games tool for journalists; a 2012 AEJMC/Knight Innovations Award grant recipient; a 2010 Knight News Challenge winner for a community engagement tool, and a 2010 J-Lab Women Entrepreneurs grant winner for a mobile app that used Augmented Reality to find black history in cities across the country. Hill joined the ASU faculty in 2007 after eight years at BET, where she was vice president for content for BET Interactive. Before joining BET, Hill was executive producer for special projects at She was a founding editor of Washington Post Newsweek Interactive. She was a Washington Post reporter for more than eight years.

Recent 30 Minute Skills Classes

Data Visualization 102

Instructor: Maggie Mulvihill | Boston University

This is the second 30 Minute Skills lesson on data visualization using Flourish, a free tool helpful to those working with large datasets and driving home the visual elements of a story. By viewing this lesson, you’ll learn: • How to navigate Flourish and use its basic functions. • How to develop simple visualizations such as charts and maps. • How to create a searchable database using the software.

Digging Deeper in Broadcast Journalism

Instructor: Kevin Rothstein | WCVB-Boston

Broadcast journalists experience many newsroom demands unique to the industry. This lesson focuses on how anyone involved in gathering information for broadcast news can use investigative techniques in his or her daily work despite the constraints of busy newsrooms and deadline pressures. By viewing this lesson, you’ll learn: • How to incorporate data into your stories (and convince your editor to let you do so). • How to use public records to strengthen your reporting. • How to find exclusives and best pitch them to your manager.

How to Find People Online

Instructor: Izaskun E. Larrañeta | The Day

Whether to locate a hard-to-find source or to dig into the background of someone featured in a story, knowing how to find people online can be an invaluable skill for journalists. By attending this class, you’ll learn: • What databases — free and paid — are available to help with your search. • How people can be found through social media accounts. • Other locations online to find information about potential sources.

How to Interview Hostile Sources

Instructor: Jenifer McKim | GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting

While many difficult interviews can be foreseen, the preparation leading up to them remains crucial and often challenging. Hostile sources can derail an interview — or avoid one altogether — if journalists are not adequately equipped for the confrontation. By viewing this class, you’ll learn: • How to lay the foundation for a productive interview with a hostile source. • The strategies needed to keep a confrontational interview safe and on topic. • Ways to follow up with a hostile source to prevent unnecessary confrontation during future interviews.

Develop a ‘Document State of Mind’

Instructor: Jenifer McKim | GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting

According to investigative journalist James B. Steele, a ‘document state of mind’ is always assuming material with information you need exists and can be found. Reporting with this mindset will not only help you locate difficult-to-find information but it will also strengthen your stories with more context and data. By viewing this class, you’ll learn: • The principles behind a “document state of mind” and how this perspective can help you. • Key questions to ask that will lead you to documents and other information necessary for your stories. • Useful sources of documents and good practices you can immediately incorporate into your reporting.

How to Pitch a Story

Instructor: Maggie Mulvihill | NEFAC, Boston University

Whether you are a student journalist or a seasoned professional, pitching a story can be difficult. It can often be a challenge to anticipate the needs of a particular editor and effectively communicate the value of your story. By viewing this lesson, you’ll learn: • Why pitching a story is a critical skill for journalists of all backgrounds and employment status. • How to develop relationships with those who will be considering your pitch. • How to craft and deliver the most effective pitch for your stories.

How to Invoke the Fair Report Privilege

Instructor: Matthew B. Byrne | Gravel & Shea

According to the First Amendment Encyclopedia, the fair report privilege is a widely recognized, state-law defense to libel actions when journalists report on or republish defamatory statements made by government. By viewing this lesson, you’ll learn: • How the fair report privilege works and current legal questions about the protection it provides. • Where to find out if your state has a fair reporting privilege and, if so, its scope of protection. • Good practices you can begin now to make your reporting more likely covered by the privilege.

Making Democracy Reporting Part of Your Beat

Instructor: Geoff Foster | Common Cause Massachusetts

Coverage of democracy-related issues has found its way across all parts of the newsroom, overlapping with many of the beats assigned to journalists. By viewing this lesson, you will learn: • How to strengthen your beat coverage with democracy-related stories. • Potential sources for stories on topics relevant to our democracy. • Specific democracy-related story ideas that you can immediately begin working on.

Finding High Quality Data for Stories

Instructor: Margot Williams | The Intercept

Before using data cleaning and visualization tools, it’s important to first obtain the most relevant datasets. Your reporting will improve with the quality of the data you use. By viewing this lesson, you will learn: • How to use tools other than Google to find databases. • How to find databases from other countries. • Tips on where to find databases that aren’t online.

Microsoft Excel 102

Instructor: Jenifer McKim | GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting

The first step in database analysis is learning how spreadsheets function and how data can be used to share compelling stories. This is the second of two introductory classes on Microsoft Excel. By viewing this class, you will learn: • How to create pivot tables from large datasets. • How to use pivot tables to generate findings for your stories. • Other basic functions of Excel that can be used to begin database analysis.

How to Balance Newsgathering with Privacy Interests

Instructor: Gregory V. Sullivan | Counsel to Union Leader Corp.

The line between responsible public interest reporting and the invasion of individual privacy can often be difficult to see. By viewing this lesson, you will learn: • What constitutes “invasion of privacy” under the law. • The scope of First Amendment protection when reporting in public areas. • Ways to stay within the legal bounds of privacy when newsgathering.


NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.