The Technovate era has brought speed and convenience to our lives like never before. Looking for a new book? With one click of a button, you can have an entire library in the palm of your hand. Missing family and friends? Pop in to say hello from across the world in high-definition streaming video chat.
However, this near-instant gratification has brought with it an unintended side effect: anything less than instant now feels painfully slow. One of the industries hit hardest by this modern conditioning is journalism. With news updates available at a moment’s notice in bite-sized packages of 280 characters or less, are the days of carefully-crafted articles written by professional journalists a thing of the past?
While robots taking over manual labor jobs for human workers isn’t exactly new, advancements in technology are starting to creep in on creative territory, as well. As the demand for 24-hour, on-demand news content continues to grow, so too does the threat of AI replacing journalists and writers.
Does journalism (at least in the traditional sense) still have a place in modern society? If so, what role should it play? And how can human journalists distinguish themselves from their robot peers? Jonathan Soble, editorial and communications lead for the World Economic Forum and senior editorial advisor for GLOBIS Insights, shares his thoughts on the AI revolution and what it means for the future of journalism as we know it.
“I increasingly have to ask myself, can I in good conscience recommend [journalism] as a career path?”Jonathan Soble
People are talking about AI as the next frontier or the next threat to writers, to journalists, and you can see it happening already. The very simplest corporate quarterly earnings stories are being turned out by bots now. Such-and-such company’s profits rose 5% in the third quarter. You don’t need a human to write that story, and increasingly humans aren’t writing those stories. And I think that’s just going to progress and broaden into other kinds of particularly journalistic storytelling.
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Just looking at journalism, where I’m from—that’s something that we’ll always need. But talking about it as a calling and talking about it as a practical career choice, I’m finding, is harder and harder all the time. When young people say, “I want to get into journalism, what should I do?” I increasingly have to ask myself, can I in good conscience recommend that as a career path? Because it is a shrinking profession.
Going into journalism now requires commitment. Cynically, I’d say it requires a trust fund. Not necessarily, but it helps. But it really requires you to be realistic about how to build that into a career, how to make a life, how to feed yourself. It’s a tough business.
In a world where so much writing is online, and so much of it is simplified and compressed, and before too long, computers will be able to regurgitate some of the easiest kinds of journalistic stories, good writing is about the only thing that journalists and writers now have to distinguish themselves. The positive side of that, the optimistic side of that, is that that frees up people to sort of sit back and look at some of the more important things.
Does this structure work? Is this addressing the right audience? Does this work on a level that is deeper than just where the comma should come? AI will be able to catch grammar mistakes. It’ll be able to catch a lot of things that humans are doing now.
Although, I think even AI will be arguing about commas until the end of time.