The impact of technology on journalism can be both exciting and worrisome. The emergence of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools, such as ChatGPT, promises to change the way news is reported, distributed and consumed.
According to Jim Brady, vice president of Journalism at Knight Foundation, journalists must embrace technology and not repeat past mistakes of viewing everything as an immediate threat, as they did with the advent of radio, television and the internet.
“So instead of focusing on how it’s going to take jobs, what could you do with it?” he says.
To adapt to evolving technology, Knight Foundation conducts all-staff training sessions on using chatbots and other new technological tools. Brady says AI-powered tools can help journalists focus on more important stories rather than spending time writing automated stories about earnings reports and high school sports. “That frees up a lot of bodies to go cover stuff that might be more important than a standard structured earnings report or structured statistical football game,” he said.
According to the International Center for Journalists, ChatGPT can be used to prepare interviews.
“You can list questions you have in mind for an interview subject, and the software will create more questions modeled after them,” said Marina Cemaj Hochstein in an article. “The software can also copy a previous interview or an article written by the interviewee and develop questions about that topic.”
Francesca Paris and Larry Buchanan from The New York Times, also published an article listing 35 ways people are using ChatGPT. Many of them can be adopted by journalists, such as writing an email, editing, organizing research, skimming dozens of documents, and inputting Excel formulas.
On the other hand, Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, is more cautious about the negative implications of technology. One of her biggest concerns is the spread of disinformation and polarization, facilitated by social media and chatbots.
“Social media was seen as an incredibly liberating force that enabled people to activate against dictatorships,” she explains. “And it was, and remains to some degree that thing, what we didn’t realize at the time was how much it could be used by people who are anti-democratic and illiberal.”
According to her, the challenge is to find a way to control technology that is consistent with individual freedom and protects the rights of individuals and minorities.
We still do not know exactly how much journalism work AI can do, neither how harmful nor useful it can be. Meanwhile, Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of Knight Foundation, prefers to be optimistic about the potential of these tools to improve news coverage.
“I am a techno-optimist,” he says. “I think eventually we will have more and more sophisticated technology. I welcome all the ChatGPTs. And I think we’ll figure it out just as we have before. I’m a prisoner of hope.”