What does AI development mean for journalists?

This article on AI and what it means for journalists is written by Becky Zimmer, a freelance writer based in Humboldt, Saskatchewan with experience in farm, community, small business and sports reporting.

What does AI development mean for journalists?

“As I watched the AI program furiously typing away on my computer screen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the future of writing. The once tedious task of crafting an essay had been handed over to a machine, and as I read the words appearing on my screen, I couldn’t believe how eloquently the AI was able to convey its thoughts. But as the program continued to write, I began to question the authenticity of its words, and I found myself facing a moral dilemma that I never thought possible.”

The “moral dilemma” described above is one I have been struggling with lately.

Not because of the self-congratulatory praise the artificial intelligence gives itself, the AI’s definition of writing as a “tedious task,” or the speed of which my ChatGPT inquiry: “Write a hook paragraph to a story about an AI program writing an essay,” was answered.

Despite a lot of positive assessments of AI authorship, what else does this new technology imply?

Artificial intelligence is popping up more and more in the news and on social media feeds as people use it in photo composition, political commentary, and what appears to be either wishful thinking or potential propaganda generation.

Talking with Owen Brierley following his Unleash the Power of AI workshop, which was more a hands-on learning experience rather than the philosophical discussion that I had been expecting, we discussed the inevitability of written AI generation and embracing it as a tool, even though my initial feeling was that it would “take my job from me.”

I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. Maybe those were lofty ambitions at the age of four but it has stuck with me, my laptop background a sea of inspirational messages and illustrations that encourage me to keep pursuing the decades old passion.

However, just because there is an AI generating program willing to put the words down for me doesn’t negate the importance of human writers and reporters. As Brierly said, “there’s no reason why you should stop.”

“If we want a very accurate capture of a person, we’ll use a camera, but if we want to capture the person’s personality, interpreted by a gifted artist for whatever the qualities we look for in that portrait, we might turn to a portrait painter and say, I would really like you to paint me a portrait of this individual.”

We have embraced and debated other beneficial technologies throughout the centuries, going all the way back from the printing press to the calculator, said Brierly, and now tools steeped in AI are part of that discussion. I didn’t bat an eye when I signed up for Otter.ai, a transcription program that had me sold in a matter of 10 minutes after it completely transcribed three 45-minute interviews. Writers, academics, and editors have been constantly singing the praises and failures of the spellcheck features of word processors for decades. And these examples don’t even touch on the ways AI tools have made digital communication easier for people with disabilities.

Are my interview transcriptions perfect? No. Has spellcheck found every mistake and perfectly suggested every change to correct them? No. But both have still saved me energy and countless hours in front of my computer.

New technological advances have always meant a shift in conversation, but why has that discussion changed now that the AI is holding the pen and forming the paragraphs? Because it does challenge the way we are currently doing things, said Brierly.

“How important is it that we sit down and manually write a cover letter? Is it more important that we can read a cover letter and know whether it’s a worthwhile cover letter or not?”

Therein lies the difference, said Brierly. It is a poor workman that blames his tools as the old saying goes, and the work of the AI generation cannot go unchecked.

“Do we know that that cover letter is doing a good job of representing us? It doesn’t really matter how it was generated, what matters: is this good content? Is it content worth sharing, and content that you will stand by?”

While it may save us time in writing that first draft, whether that be for a new Facebook post, informational blog article, or news feature, there still needs to be careful checking and putting our own touch on it.

Even as just a consumer of news, Brierly understands the journalistic difficulties of staying ahead of the tweets, social media posting, and misinformation of the digital news age. If a journalist can introduce a tool that will help them generate content and quickly verify it before clicking send, they’re in a good place, he said.

Becky Zimmer grew up on a farm on the Saskatchewan prairies. From the age of four, Becky remembers wanting to do nothing else but reading and writing. Now as a journalist, Becky enjoys photography, volunteering, covering local events in the rural community not far from where she grew up, and writing about writing. Becky has covered agriculture for the last eight years, but has also written about municipal politics and was a news editor before concentrating on a freelance career. Becky has written about provincial and national government policy changes, mental health, international commodity markets, and agricultural innovations, as well as local sports, civic politics, and town councils. She has traveled extensively throughout Canada and took her first trip to Europe in the summer of 2022.

As a freelancer, she is always looking for new opportunities to work behind the scenes within the writing community and wants to continue traveling the world with her laptop and camera, doing nothing else but exploring and writing about the world. She has been published in The Globe and Mail, Prairies North Magazine, GrainsWest, CBC Saskatchewan, Pattison Media, and Glacier Farm Media but is always open to new opportunities, whether in the news or corporate communications and PR worlds.

Posted on May 1, 2023 at 5:30 am by editor ·

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Amy Jackson
    on August 25, 2023 at 12:50 am
    Reply · Permalink

    AI development introduces a new era in journalism that necessitates a balanced approach. Embracing AI’s capabilities while upholding the principles of accuracy, ethics, and responsible reporting can position journalists to leverage technology for more impactful and relevant storytelling in an ever-changing media landscape.

  2. Written by Esther
    on January 4, 2024 at 11:38 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Hm, to be perfectly honest, I think LLM are, at present, not up to the task of replacing human writers. What I’ve noticed about AI-generated text is that it has very distinct tells (too many adjectives, adverbs) and it can’t really hold a line of thought longer than a paragraph (I assume this is because it cannot think). With that said, I have also read elsewhere that you can prompt it toward a certain style (i.e. “Write me a cover letter in blank verse in the style of Shakespeare”), and this leads to better performance.

    Still, I think what we’re going to start seeing is AI get used to speed up workflow: have it generate the base text (multiple iterations) then have a person cut, paste, and edit it into something more unique. I can’t comment to extensively on how language models work, but for images, Stable Diffusion allows you to actually “train” your own AI on certain images. So what we will have in the future is a very customizable tool, though my main concern is for the social impacts.

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