Journalism and AI: the values of the craft versus artificial realities

Picture of Noemí Jansana

Journalism has been killed so many times that we have lost count; Every technological innovation in journalistic production has forced entire generations of news professionals into a process of natural selection; And there has often been a rush to proclaim that we were doomed to sing our swan song; But the fundamental pillars of the trade have remained unchanged, despite the transformation of channels; To name but a few: critical thinking; rigorous and truthful reporting; checking facts; consulting sources; What makes us think that – in the face of the revolution posed by Artificial Intelligence (AI)– won’t the same thing happen?

The journalist is dead, long live the journalist 3.0

If we focus on the new communication paradigm of the Internet era, the figure of the message sender in possession of the information, who decides what is truthful and therefore relevant to society, has long since signed its death warrant. The web 2.0 caused an evolution of the audiences of classic communication models and ended the unidirectionality that mass media are supposed to.

Since the early 2000s, the receiver of the messages has been transformed into a user with the ability to interact with transmitters and other users, which in turn makes it a transmitter, a rebroadcaster and an amplifier; The accessibility of the technology to create these messages is now universal and has placed a multimedia tool in every citizen’s pocket. Information has evolved into multimedia content; The channel is now constituted by a myriad of semantics platforms, increasingly decentralized and emitting a constant flow of messages and information in real time, which leads to saturation

All of the above, and especially the social web, has been to journalism what the meteorite that hit the earth 66 million years ago was to the dinosaurs; It has eradicated the previous model and forced the profession to compete in an environment where the user has become empowered, has adopted the role of content creator and is now the medium, the message and even the channel. The information professional and sole possessor of veracity has been extinguished to make way for the citizen journalism or journalism 3.0.

The content curator

This phenomenon has thrown the traditional media into a deep crisis from which they have not yet managed to emerge and to update themselves as they have never had to do before; But the quintessence of the professional journalist versus the citizen journalist has remained unchanged, it has only had to adapt to a new context of high demands;

From 9/11 to the Arab Springs

While the Lewinsky scandal, the pinnacle of infotainment, is considered the first major news case of the Internet era, 9/11 is recognized by authors such as Dan Gillmor, in his book We the media, as the turning point of the blogger phenomenon. On that terrible day they rose up as the chroniclers of events, in the face of the collapse of the webs and the classic media, breaking forever the canons of the informative orthodoxy that delimited, to date, the professional channels;

There was no turning back; Exclusivity over information was taken away once and for all and the era of monopoly of the traditional channels was over; The new reporters transgressed the rules and mixed reporting with opinion, planting the seed of what more than a decade later would give rise to the fake news and journalism had to reinvent itself.

It was another historic event of major importance that restored the profession to a place of relevance in the information consumption chain;

Between 2010 and 2012 the world witnessed a series of popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, known as the Arab Spring through blogs and information from citizens, who relayed the events in first person, while the media in those countries hid the reality. At the time, Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera decided to set itself up as the platform for all this popular content, exercising a role ofgatekeeper of veracity, applying journalistic criteria, no longer to the production, but to the selection and service of those information provided by the protagonists of the news. And it gave birth to the new professional journalism of the digital age;

In the last decade, the core skills of the trade have become a compass to help readers navigate a new world of infoxication constantly and in which anyone can broadcast information without checking or verifying. Journalists have been able to regain their authority, no longer as the only loudspeaker, but as a filter, hierarchizer of information and content curator.

Is there anything new in journalism in the face of AIs?

Just when we thought we had reached a new status quo, the challenge posed by artificial intelligence is once again shaking the foundations of the profession. This new revolution puts society as a whole in check and poses an almost dystopian future in which AIs will produce the content, supplanting journalists, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and almost any craft reserved for human creation.

What is even more shocking is whether they will be able to illuminate alternative and artificial multimedia realities, where misinformation and the fake news will take on new dimensions, to the point where it will be virtually impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is a construct of machines.

Gatekeepers of the veracity

We journalists have arrived at this situation without having yet left behind two decades of idiosyncratic changes, which we have tried to summarise in this text, but with the previous lesson well learned; And in the face of the new artificial realities, our role as curators of content, key verifiers and verifiers will become even stronger; “selection” of information and realities, based on journalistic criteria and using professional honesty”, claims Miquel Pellicer, director of Digital Communication at the UOC, in the podcast El elefante verde blog.

As Pellicer so well expresses, we are not inventing anything; We have been at the crossroads for years and journalists have learned to coexist with the citizen journalism we talked about during the Arab Spring, with social networks, content creators, youtubers, tiktokers and streamers; We have seen the birth and death of journalistic content dissemination tools (does anyone remember the web-source phenomenon –RSS feeds-, which were largely replaced by Twitter and other social networks?).

We have abandoned our pulpits of one-way communicators and have learned to interlocue with audiences and incorporate their capacity to produce content; we have been flexible; we have renewed the profession, incorporating new skills and capacities, which have turned us into almost orchestra men and women; We write, layout, search for and retouch images, apply html code, produce copy, disseminate news on RRSS (and a host of other functions that we are absorbing so that technology does not pass us by). And he who has not learned, has fallen by the wayside;

The definitive evolution of the trade

Throughout this process, two weaknesses have become apparent:

  1. The first and most obvious is how the academic programmes at national universities have been overwhelmed by the evolution of the profession, and have come up with answers for the training of new journalists late and badly. Even today, as we move into Web 3.0 – not Web 3, mind you – where AI is proving that it will play a major role in the semantic and digitalised web, young journalists enter the workforce with almost embarrassing knowledge of Web 2.0, so it ends up happening that they learn their trade in the newsrooms where they start as trainees – something that has happened all their lives, by the way; It is to be hoped that the same will be true of the new challenge that AI poses to the profession;
  2. The second is the inability of large media corporations to react quickly to innovation and the reluctance of each of us communication professionals to embrace it. Despite all the above, we remain entrenched in our craft of being the only ones fit to inform and we are reluctant to abandon those pulpits that we no longer have and that are now occupied by streamers, tiktokers or influencers. But our mission in this new world of artificial intelligence is to be the first to learn how to use these tools to amplify the verification, content curation and critical thinking functions of journalists.

We are tasked with train these artificial intelligences so that they respect citizens’ fundamental rights, do not show bias towards minorities – while being inclusive – and do not contribute to increasing social inequalities. Do not manipulate; Do not misinform; Do not construct false stories;

In short, we must renew ourselves once and for all, abandon all resistance to the fact that a story, today, can be told by anyone much better than us, even a machine, and lead a counter-revolution: the one of ethical Artificial Intelligences; The one of information professionals as guardians of truthfulness;

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