Graham Media Group, AI & Local News Challenge Cohort II

A sample image from a Graham Media Group station website

Watch the Graham Media Group's Demo Day presentation from June 21, 2023.

Online news comment sections have long been infamous for their chaos, lack of productivity, and sometimes even harmful content. Most news organizations offer little direction, allowing users to steer the conversations as they please. However, Graham Media Group (GMG) hopes to change this narrative with its AI-powered comment bot called "First Dibs." In this blog post, we'll explore what "First Dibs" is all about and how it aims to reshape the landscape of news article conversations.

The "First Dibs" comment bot utilizes the power of natural language processing and ChatGPT to create thought-provoking comment prompts on news articles. Its primary objective is to guide conversations, increase user participation, and drive deeper engagement with meaningful content, leading to positive business outcomes for GMG.

Traditionally, news comment sections have left users to their whims, resulting in off-topic rants, harmful discussions, and unproductive chaos. With the implementation of "First Dibs," GMG seeks to offer effective prompts that direct discussions toward more productive ends. These prompts are carefully crafted to maintain the integrity of the conversation and encourage a wider range of users to join in.

Moderating comment sections around the clock to keep conversations on track is one of the challenges for newsrooms, especially for time-starved ones. GMG is testing the power of AI to fill this gap. By integrating the OpenAI GPT-3.5-turbo API with their digital experience third-party vendor for the comments widget, GMG is automating the process of generating effective prompts to guide conversations.

ChatGPT triggers the comment prompts by analyzing 100 or more stories published by GMG's six local newsrooms. Human producers can remove or modify prompts as needed. On the user end, these prompts provide clear instructions on the boundaries of the conversation, creating a structured and focused environment for engagement.

Sensitive news stories often require a delicate touch in the comment section. To challenge the "First Dibs" comment bot, GMG has put it to the test with sensitive reporting, a domain typically unsuitable for open conversations. However, initial results have shown promise, with the AI capable of guiding users toward safer ground and fostering more respectful discussions.

Sample webpage from a Graham media digital site


Like any other commenter, the "First Dibs" comment bot is subject to moderation. Digital producers and newsroom employees have the authority to remove any inappropriate comments. Additionally, Viafoura's moderation team reviews comments for 18 hours a day, ensuring a safe and constructive environment.

GMG will be transparent with its comment bot. Each comment generated by the "First Dibs" bot will be explicitly labeled as such, and the bot itself will refrain from engaging, moderating, or voting in conversations. GMG’s Comment Guidelines will be updated to include a dedicated section explaining the underlying process behind the prompts, ensuring users are well-informed.

Sample conversation prompt comment from the Local 4 Bot

In today's digital landscape, as the "cookie-pocalypse" looms, local media publishers find first-party data increasingly crucial. Engaging and retaining users is a primary driver for successful business outcomes, and commenting plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. By implementing "First Dibs," GMG aims to enhance user registration and on-site engagement, providing a win-win scenario for both the media company and its audience.

GMG's "First Dibs" comment bot marks a significant milestone in revolutionizing news comment sections. By employing AI-powered prompts and moderation, GMG seeks to guide discussions, increase user participation, and foster meaningful conversations. As the media landscape continues to evolve, initiatives like "First Dibs" pave the way for more innovative solutions, enriching the reader experience and driving business success.

Graham Media Group Team

GMG’s “First Dibs” team included developer Marcus Brown, Director of Product Kristen Tebo, Data Scientist Araz Hashemi, and Audience Development Lead Dustin Block, all under the guidance of Director of Transformation Michael Newman and Chief Innovation Officer Stephanie Slagle.