Vikram Chandra's Editor Ji Wants to Change the News Industry With 'Augmented Intelligence'
Veteran journalist and one of India's renowned news anchors, Vikram Chandra, on Tuesday the launch of his multilingual video news platform called Editor Ji. The new platform is touted to use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms alongside human inputs to deliver curated news content. It comes in the form of Android and iOS apps, as well as a Progressive Web App (PWA) and even an online portal, all designed to serve bite-sized news videos across genres such as politics, international, local stories, sports, business, lifestyle, technology, and entertainment. Apart from in-house videos served by the Editor Ji editors, the company has also tied up with select Indian media outlets to start serving their video stories through the new platform. Presently, the Editor Ji platform includes content in English and Hindi, but Chandra tells Gadgets 360 that there are plans to expand to other Indic languages as well.
"Editor Ji is a technology platform that is designed to change the ecosystem, change the way things are happening, and it is designed to work very seamlessly with a range of partners in a range of different roles," Chandra said at the sidelines of a media briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday. "We're not in competition with the rest of the world. We also don't want to have any monopolistic ideas or crush anyone else. We think we're an aid to not just to the users but also to the rest of the industry, and we would like to help everyone. So that's why we're designed to work in very close partnership and association with a range of people."
Editor Ji currently has a team of 40 full-time people with a majority of them in editorial roles. "These are the people who are not only doing Editor Ji's own videos but also will be increasingly managing and curating the content that partners will start putting into the system," Chandra tells Gadgets 360. Also, there are 10 people working as a part of Opalina that is the technology partner for Editor Ji. Five people are additionally working on the design of the platform.
It took 18 months for Chandra to take Editor Ji from a concept to a standalone product, with the last six months, he says, spent in fine-tuning the AI for the platform.
Instead of solely relying on AI, Editor Ji has opted for a mix of computer intelligence, which Chandra calls augmented intelligence, and human efforts. "Balancing the AI and the human element and how you are going to get the right mixture – what's going to go in the algorithm – that was the most key challenge initially," he asserts.
"Content is not a challenge for us as simply because we have such a high-powered team. These guys collectively have roughly 200 years of experience between them in television news. So they are the best in the business," says Chandra, himself a veteran of the industry of over 24 years.
The interface of the Editor Ji app is quite convenient to use. Once installed, you'll be greeted by an on-boarding process that's quite similar to what we've seen with the likes of Apple Music. You can select what type of news you would like to see, such as international news, national news, and local news; regions you're interested in, such as Delhi, Bengaluru, or Chennai; and categories, such as Showbiz, Youth, Tech, Sports, and Lifestyle. You can also specify what kind of news you do not want to see. The app then asks you to adjust the style of news on a sliding scale from 'Serious' to 'Masala' and adjust the delivery of opinions from 'None' to 'A lot'.
All this is used to build your newscast, which is essentially a personalised video playlist, with videos autoplaying one after the other, though you can swipe to go to the next or previous video. The Editor Ji app also gives the option to download your daily playlist automatically, so you can consume it while you are offline. If you are watching it online, the app can switch from the video mode to audio if you're in a poor bandwidth zone. The app also lets you share your newscast with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.
Chandra says that the idea for the unique name of Editor Ji comes from popular Indian quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati in which a computer system is referred to "computer ji". "From computer ji, the idea came up Editor Ji," he says. "It's the same theme because theoretically a computer ji has grown up and now become Editor Ji. Editor Ji specifically refers to two things in our product – one is the basic newscast, which is built by an AI algorithm that is the Editor Ji. But then you can also switch it off and create your own newscast, which is where you become the editor ji."
The Editor Ji platform does have a room for opinions, but it doesn't let individuals post their opinions directly on the universal news feed that is available for all. The app only lets you create your opinions or host your anchor links particularly for your newscasts. However, you can create and share your opinion videos.
"Every story that you can add to your news list is from our platform; it's the fact that's been checked by the Editor Ji's editorial team as well as other editorial teams," says Chandra. "When you press the record button, this is now your opinion. But it will very clearly come up that it has to have your face on it and it will come up saying this is this person's opinion. Everyone should be free to have their opinion in a free country – as long as they're not inciting violence and as long as they're not saying something through which you're blurring opinion with fact. In our case, we're making the differentiation."
Chandra also points out that he and his team are working to solve the problem of fake news in the country. "The biggest problem with fake news in the country today is that stories are being sent out and forwarded with no authentication, along with anonymity and no accountability," he says. "We're solving that problem, in my mind, largely because the stories that are coming from our platform have been vetted by senior editors and humans. There is a certain fact-checking. It's not like an algorithm has to show a story on its own. It's all humans. So there is a responsibility and accountability."
Like any big news platform, Chandra does have monetisation plans for the Editor Ji platform. He tells Gadgets 360 that his team is looking to have advertising as the sole model at the initial stage and then there will be a premium service in the future. However, instead of using micro-data of each individual on the platform to serve targeted ads, the company is set to segment data for advertisers. "The ability to segment data is always the case," the executive states. "It happens today. If you're setting a newspaper, you'll say okay this is the Delhi ad, Bengaluru ad, or Calcutta ad. If somebody is coming to you in a newspaper and ask for a business ad, like a new mutual fund, you'll put it in the business page of the newspaper. That's a logical thing."
The content that has been served through Editor Ji is presently in the form of short videos of 15-20 seconds length. Nevertheless, there could be some long-form content on the platform over time. "We're trying to change habits and we're trying to get people to use to the concept of press one to see lots and lots of short-form, 15-20 second videos," says Chandra. "That's the format we're trying to establish in people's minds. For the movement, we will not necessarily go into long-form. But as people get the idea, start to understand and appreciate what is happening, then we'll see and find ways of showing long-form."
Disclosure: Vikram Chandra has been associated with NDTV for over 24 years and served as the group's CEO from 2011 to 2016. Gadgets 360 is part of the NDTV Group.