Embracing AI – and aliens – in the AFR Magazine Power Issue

AFR Magazine

Plus: The AFR’s About Time Watch Fair

On Friday, The AFR Magazine’s Power List lifted the lid on the most powerful people in the country – with top honours going to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, trade minister Don Farrell, and Matilda’s captain Sam Kerr.

The AFR team have taken the list to the next level, bringing in AI to create portraits of notable people in situations outside of their usual habitats. In Farrell’s case, an alien encounter sees him positioned outside of his usual planet.

To speak about the Power Issue and how it came together, Mediaweek spoke with AFR Magazine editor, Matthew Drummond.

“This was a really, really challenging issue,” Drummond said, speaking about the logistics of putting the issue together.


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“The Power Issue itself is quite laborious, because you have to fly in people from all over the country – you’ve got 20-odd people who form the two main panels, and the panel that decides overt and covert power is separate from the panel for cultural power. 

“Once they come up with those lists, we then get our photographers to get fresh photographs of as many people as possible. We dealt with that as per usual, we’ve got photographs of most of the people there or the magazine. But in addition, we supplemented that with data and AI.”

Aside from the influential people who have made the lists, AI is sharing the spotlight with data for the focus of the Power Issue. Drummond said that bringing the two together was originally a way to bring a neutral factor into something that is subjective by nature. 


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We’ve made this issue about the power of data and artificial intelligence. Power is inherently subjective, by nature, power is a slippery thing to define. Creating the lists is a very subjective process, and it doesn’t have any data – it’s all about opinion. 

“We’ve often thought, wouldn’t it be good to attempt a data-led analysis of the most powerful people in the country? Could you use data like media mentions and market capitalisations of companies? That’s been something that we’ve talked about doing for many years.”

It’s been impossible to escape the reality of AI on the world over the last 12 months, and that reality is exactly why Drummond and the team went ahead with creating the AI-generated images for the issue.

In November last year, ChatGPT launched publicly and people realised how the artificial intelligence revolution has well and truly begun. Together with Tim Beor my creative director, we spoke about using artificial intelligence to build some of the images in the issue. 

“We used two platforms to create the AI images – one is called Stable Diffusion, and one is called Midjourney. We leaned on the skills of an expert in AI creativity called Rodolfo Ocampo, who’s undertaking a PhD in artificial intelligence at UNSW. We had his help to build the images.”


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With the rapid development of AI, Drummond points out that “there are a huge number of questions about how artificial intelligence is going to be in used in newsrooms and how it’s going to be used in media.” After the release of this Power Issue, however, he doesn’t see the AFR Magazine team repeating the experiment any time soon.

We wouldn’t do this again without context or a reason for doing it. My reason for doing it this time is that AI is very much in the zeitgeist of 2023, and data is powerful. I wanted to bring that all together into the Power Issue, but the lessons from that are that nothing really beats actual photography.”

About Time Watch Fair

The other big project that the AFR team have just wrapped up is the About Time Watch Fair, taking place over Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd of September. The event saw 750 readers and subscribers of the Financial Review register to attend hourly events inside the boutiques of 14 watch brands across Sydney. 

“It was absolutely brilliant to see all these Financial Review subscribers and readers getting around Sydney with their bright yellow lanyards, popping in and out of watch boutiques and learning about what makes their watches tick,” said Drummond.

“We had watchmakers who flew out from Switzerland and Japan to do live demonstrations of building watches, we had cocktail-making courses, we had a course in how to take the perfect wrist shot for Instagram.”

It’s not all just fun and games, however, with the event highlighting the power of the AFR brand for advertisers. 

“It’s been something we’ve worked on for about six months, and it marks a real innovation in our business. We’ve never combined the subscription side of our business with the advertising side of our business in this way, we’ve never done a lifestyle event, we’ve never done an event where we’ve tried to get subscribers of the AFR to go into shops and to go shopping. 

“Hopefully, this will provide incontrovertible proof to watch advertisers of the quality and calibre of the audience they can reach through the Financial Review.”

The Australian Financial Review Magazine Power Issue is available nationally on Friday, September 29 and on www.afr.com

See Also: AFR BOSS unveils 2023 Most Innovative Companies List

Top Image: Matthew Drummond

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