AI will change journalism, but not always for the worst

By Clara Snyder | Reporter

As an individual who is pretty heavily entrenched in the world of journalism, both personally and academically, I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the future of journalism and the challenges in it. Any time I am asked about this topic, two issues seem to overwhelmingly dominate the conversation: news bias and artificial intelligence.

Discussing news bias has become commonplace in the interactions I have with people about journalism, which comes as no surprise, since polls indicate public trust in media is at a historic low.

The main issue I take with the topic is the notion that the news bias existing today is unprecedented and that journalism used to be entirely free of bias. That isn’t true.

There are a number of examples of partisan journalism in the past, specifically in the 19th century, when most papers were directly linked to specific political parties, depending on the publisher’s economic interests.

The idea of objective journalism is actually a more recent one than many are led to believe. Objectivity didn’t arrive on the scene as a norm until the 1920s, when newspapers were forced to merge amid publication closures, leading papers to embrace objectivity in order to appeal to the greatest number of readers.

The other issue I take with this topic is the idea that news bias makes consuming journalism a wasted effort. If we neglect to inform ourselves on the basis of dissatisfaction with people who are meant to inform us, we regress from critical thinking as a culture.

To some extent, the idea of objectivity can be seen as an impossibility. Humans, by nature, have opinions that inform the daily decisions they make. Even when it comes down to choosing a source to interview for a story, choosing to interview the most informed individual on a given topic is not objective in and of itself.

Hunter S. Thompson painted objective journalism well in his book titled “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” in which he called the phrase “objective journalism” a pompous contradiction in terms.

“What can I say? Objective journalism is a hard thing to come by these days. We all yearn for it, but who can point the way? … With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as objective journalism.”

In regard to AI, a common opinion communicated to me is that AI will eliminate the need for journalists and dismantle the practice of journalism as a whole. I disagree with that opinion as well.

AI isn’t a threat to the jobs of journalists. I believe it can actually be an asset to the future of the practice and help combat the issue of public distrust and disinterest in traditional news outlets.

The practice of reporting and breaking news stories remains a human-specific role that AI can’t do. However, Charlie Beckett, the head of the London School of Economics’ journalism AI research project, argued it can be used to streamline the process.

“AI is not about the total automation of content production from start to finish. It is about augmentation to give professionals and creatives the tools to work faster, freeing them up to spend more time on what humans do best,” Beckett said in a Reuters Institute article.

Additionally, AI could help revive public trust in media by sifting through the large amount of information available to readers in order to produce a final product that distinguishes the facts.

If journalism embraces AI as a tool and invites this technology into the future of the practice, media outlets could begin to output stories that reassert themselves as trustworthy sources. Harnessing the power of AI in the production of journalism is also something that could separate these outlets from social media, which has become an increasingly popular medium for consumers to get their news.

When it comes to social media becoming a preferred outlet for news consumption instead of traditional media, the overarching reason I see is journalism’s lack of connectivity with the public.

Social media strives to connect with the public by utilizing algorithms to tailor information that directly aligns with consumer desires. Why would you want to look for information beyond social media when you’re already getting a product curated for your own personal taste?

In this age of technology, where mass amounts of information are available to users at any given moment, gaining the reader’s trust has become increasingly dependent on personal emotions.

Perhaps by setting aside the notion of total objectivity and instead focusing on producing stories that appeal to the individual — while reinforcing the information with evidence and cross-referenced truths — modern media could reposition itself as an outlet worth trusting.

Beckett summarized this point well in his blog article titled “Journalism’s new mission: understanding the human.”

“Journalists have to go with this flow of postmodern human nature. They need to be more expert, but they also need to be more empathetic. [Journalism] must not abandon all of its traditional virtues and craft, but the reinvention must be more than technical. The news media must rediscover its interest in understanding the human.”