How will AI affect journalism?

When talking about the effects of AI on the labour market, most focus has centred on those jobs and industries in which human participation at anything below supervisory level will be made redundant. Primarily, these are jobs requiring either a high degree of technical ability or, conversely, none at all. For the former, we might think of complex surgery; for the latter, supermarket checkout workers.

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Falling between those two extremes are jobs requiring a combination of some technical ability with creativity. One of these is journalism. It’s difficult to quantify the ways in which AI might replace journalists simply because the nature of the job is so varied.

Who do we mean by ‘journalists’? Are we talking about the reporters rewriting wire copy to fill the foreign pages? News reporters going out in search of stories, knocking on doors and following up leads? The ranks of feature writers, interviewers, diarists and reviewers whose journalism is the product of engagement with others’ creative work?

Local news reporting is the most likely instance. This is, for the most part, simple reporting of the facts of a story as they are known at the time of writing. It doesn’t require analysis or interpretation, invention or creative imagination. It is the sober relaying of information, usually gained from a third party. This could be done by AI very easily and potentially even better with AI having a far greater capacity for checking facts against multiple sources rapidly.

Where the facts seem to clash or where there are several differing accounts of an event, it would be a matter of simple statistics for the AI to weigh up which has the greater number of corroborating accounts–which is, after all, what a journalist must do in the same situation.

Where there is a far lesser chance of AI replacing a journalist is in anything requiring analysis of the human element in a story, for instance feature writing and political reporting. Having that ‘human touch’ to a piece would be difficult to achieve without a human behind it.

Until AI has the ability to empathize, to intuit and respond in kind, there is no chance of it replacing a human. Besides which, when AI does have those abilities, whether or not it can write a good interview will be the least of our concerns.

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