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Editorial: AI is not a threat, but a tool for journalists

Enter any publication’s newsroom and it will be at least half empty. Ask where journalism is going and no one says anything except that it's nosediving and it's impossible to get a job. No one makes any money. It's falling apart. Journalism is archaic, a relic, on its deathbed and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

Conversations about journalism today are incredibly nihilistic, specifically when AI is brought up. Somehow everyone has either become an expert on exactly how and why the industry is about to collapse at a robot’s feet or only knows enough to be scared.

Throughout the history of journalism, it has adapted to the latest technology and gotten more technologically sophisticated. It's hard to watch something with as much potential to expand as AI grow so powerful over such a short period of time and not wonder what it could possibly do next. When it comes to AI, there are a lot of things to worry about, but journalism is not one of them. 

It's only human to be fearful of something one doesn’t understand, but in the context of journalism, AI should be seen more as a tool that must be harnessed as opposed to a rival to the industry. 

A big part of the hysteria in journalism surrounding the advancement of AI has to do with misconceptions about what AI is currently used for, much of which is referred to as “augmented reporting capacity.” According to Knight Foundation, augmented reporting capacity is using algorithms to comb through large documents for relevant information, detecting breaking news and getting information from government websites. Augmented reporting capacity accounted for half of the 130 AI projects examined by the Knight Foundation in this study. 

This data largely suggested that AI could be revolutionary in allowing reporters to work more on the human aspects of journalism that AI simply could not capture while algorithms aid in sorting out information.

Simultaneously, only 3% of the projects are considered “news reporting,” or actually create the end result, which even then is likely not an actual story. This is probably because stories written by AI based on information from reporters are poorly written to the point it's obvious something is off. A great but unfortunate example of this is from Ohio’s own Columbus Dispatch, whose effort to incorporate AI into sports reporting was so robotic and awkward that it went viral. 

The coldness that makes the revolution of AI so unsettling is the same coldness that will prevent it from taking over more human-centric endeavors including journalism.

However, there are a few areas that journalists must be aware of as AI becomes stronger, especially the capacity it has for creating increasingly convincing “deepfake” photos and videos. The real danger lies in the fact that deepfake media is becoming more accurate every day, and it’s at a point where it could potentially throw the world into chaos within minutes in the very near future. For this reason, it is pertinent that journalists remain vigilant and do not publish sensationalized videos and images before getting confirmation of what is actually going on. This is a difficult feat when deepfakes are already pretty convincing and will only become more convincing with time. 

Another area in which AI is threatening to journalism is when it is generated from the information it is exposed to, breaking down paywalls and stealing the work of journalists to use without credit. An example of this is a recent lawsuit filed by Getty Images, in which the company accused an AI company of stealing over 12 million photos along with captions and metadata from its collection. 

It's hard to determine where journalism or AI are going at this point and how they will fit together. However, history has told us countless times how humans have feared change and fought technology but technology always wins. Good or bad, AI is coming, and journalists should use it to their advantage as much as they can.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Katie Millard, Managing Editor Emma Erion, Digital Director Anastasia Carter and Equity Director Alesha Davis. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.

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