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31 March 2023

Can AI Save Journalism, or Will it be the Cause of its Undoing?


The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in journalism is a double-edged sword: it promises faster, more efficient reporting, but at what cost to the human element?


The emergence of AI has sparked a fierce debate concerning its impacts on the media field. While some argue that its presence may save journalism by providing improved tools and solutions to combat challenges faced by the industry, others fear that it could lead to the demise of traditional journalism as we know it. As a student who has (wishfully) always placed journalism at the forefront of my envisioned career path, I can’t help but wonder: what does the future hold for this industry in the age of artificial intelligence? Will robots eventually be a tool or threat to this industry? and ultimately… are machines better storytellers than us?


This question is rooted from my discovery of AI-generated articles, AI chatrooms, ChatGPT and other, similar creations. When first hearing about these, I initially convinced myself this was a one-way trip to the end of human journalists… a simple, yet melancholic pipeline journeying from print to pixel. After all, why pay a human to write something a computer could cerebrally generate, not only faster, but for a fraction of the cost? However, as I’ve learned  more about AI and its various capabilities (and don’t get me wrong - I’m still no Turing), I’ve come to the hopeful conclusion that humans still have a vital position in this field. Sure, a robot may be able to churn out article after article, manufacturing thousands of words a day, but can it really capture the nuance and trying complexity of the human experience? Can it accurately tell a story that will truly resonate with readers on an emotional level on par with that of its audience? I don’t think so. Well, at least not for now. 


Now it’s undeniable, AI has its imperative uses. It is impressive, acute, and its capacity and informational scope is quite frankly unfathomable. It would be perfect for data-driven stories, where the emphasis lies between unambiguous numbers and statistics. It would also be incredibly useful in unpacking breaking news stories; where speed is of the essence and accuracy is paramount. However, when it comes to dealing with features, profiles and generally more personable types of journalism, AI falls short. This, for want of a better word, is due to its lack of human touch. That’s not to say that journalists shouldn’t be worried about the rise of AI; I think it’s fair to say we should all be mindful of its rising capabilities and be prepared to adapt to a changing media landscape, for better or for worse. I don’t, however, think it’s a means for total panic. Or at least not quite yet. 


Total reliance on technology in this context is irrefutably problematic; it lends it a potent creative presence that it does not innately possess.


As humans, we have the ability to pick up on subtle cues, intonations and body language, which may reveal more about a subject’s personality than a simple interview video or mere transcript. We may even ask questions AI wouldn’t think to prompt or deem necessary in order to cultivate precise information. We also have intuition on our side, as well as empathy. These are both crucial in helping to connect with readers on a graver level, something which AI doesn’t seem to truly mimic. Its relationship with bias is also one to flag up when relying on technology to provide accurate information. Due to the nature of AI, with its algorithms only as good as the data it has been based on, there is a risk that they could perpetuate existing biases and reinforce outdated stereotypes. This is a particularly pressing issue when it comes to concerns such as race and gender, where biases can have serious, long-lasting consequences. 


AI could alternatively be hugely favourable for journalists, and perhaps the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach would benefit the journalistic field.  By automating many of the tedious tasks that journalists currently spend much of their time on, such as fact-checking or data analysis, AI could free up more time for journalists to streamline their efforts into the creative and humanistic aspects of their work. Used in this scenario, AI would be deemed as a mere tool which complements, rather than replaces, human journalism. This, of course, has  already been widely implemented across digital publications, with affluent outlets such as the Financial Times introducing AI editors across their team in order to facilitate this transition. 


So, where does this leave us? The relationship between AI and journalism is a continuously evolving one, and it's ultimately up to journalists to adapt and find new ways to work alongside this technology. We can’t ignore it or dismiss it as a passing fad, in a desperate plea for it to just miraculously disappear. We also can’t simply assume that it’s going to render us utterly obsolete. As with many technological advances our generation is presented with, I believe that we need to learn to work alongside them, rather than against them. As long as we continue to bring uniquely differing perspectives and story-telling abilities to the table, there should and will always be a place for humans in the media landscape. That being said, maybe an AI platform could have written a better article?

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