AI and journalism: A death sentence or a new beginning?

2. Khalid Dalal
(Photo: Jordan News)
The question that is raised and answered in Francesco Marconi’s 2020 book “Newsmakers: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism” is whether artificial intelligence (AI) would bring an end to journalism as we know it. The answer is surely “no”, but that does not mean that media outlets, especially in our part of the world, sit idle in waiting.اضافة اعلان

They need to immediately start setting the stage for the sweeping change that would alter the face of the profession, and the way news is made and disseminated in the foreseen future.

In fact, the author himself is a journalist who previously headed The Wall Street Journal R&D and managed The Associated Press’s shift to AI-driven news making before that. Marconi is also an instructor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, one the best in the world, and is an affiliate researcher at MIT Media Lab.

Marconi concludes that AI is good news for journalists and newsmakers if aptly utilized, due to the huge potential the technology has. He insists that the tools that will be at the fingertips of reporters and editors will render the process of news making faster, more accurate, and cost-effective. There will be a new mode of storytelling and connection with news consumers. He talks about the “augmentation” rather than “automation” of the process, “allowing journalists to break more news more quickly while simultaneously freeing up their time for deeper analysis.”

Marconi’s book can be seen as part of a global movement to introduce the future technologies to this generation of journalists and the generation to come. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is one of universities globally leading JournalismAI, which it defines as a “global initiative that aims to create opportunities for journalists and media organizations to come together and explore solutions to improve the future of journalism with AI.” Google News Initiative is a partner in this progressive project.

Professor Charlie Becket, the author of the LSE’s report on JournalismAI, a major product of the initiative, acknowledges that the AI impact is still uncertain, but there is no doubt that its effects will be numerous, wide-ranging, and worthy of exploration.

The report, titled “New powers, new responsibilities. A global survey of journalism and artificial intelligence”, was released in 2019, based on a survey of 71 journalists from across the world. It does not offer itself as a practical guide of what to do, but triggers thinking among media leaders to consider a shift to AI technologies.

At their disposal will be effective big-data analysis tools powered by AI, among others, that will revitalize the profession. Naturally, this necessitates training the present and the future generations of journalists on the new technologies so that they would not be jumping into darkness in a decade or so.

Media organizations in our region should start an AI literacy drive now, just like the rest of the world, and the subject should be incorporated into the curricula of journalism schools without delay.

The assuring factor in all of this is that the human element will not be eliminated as some would imagine. Newsrooms will be smaller for sure, but more efficient, and for that purpose we need to prepare enlightened journalists who we can trust to lead the way to the future.

What we should not ignore as we embrace the new trends in journalism is ethics. In a million years, ethics will remain a matter of integrity and justice that human communities need to have in place under all circumstances. Regardless of what technology can offer us, biased reporting and fake news remain the enemy of good and decent journalism. Let’s all remember that always.

Maybe the best description for Marconi’s book is how the director of the Stanford Journalism Program, professor Jay Hamilton, put it: The book “provides readers with a detailed roadmap of how journalism workflows and content will change through the AI inspired process of iterative journalism. The result will be coverage that adjusts to readers’ information needs in real-time and increases the scale and scope of reporting.” This is absolutely true.

The writer is a former advisor at the Royal Hashemite Court, a former director of media and communication at the Office of His Majesty King Abdullah II, and works currently as a senior advisor for business development at Al-Ghad and Jordan News.