Erosion of traditional journalism a concern of evolving technology

Andrew is a graduate of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

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The turn of the century marked a new frontier of technology and innovation, with the introduction of smartphones serving as the catalyst for a new era. Since then, new industries have emerged while others have fizzled out. 

Journalism has been a longstanding industry built on integrity, transparency and, most importantly, reporting. However, the rapid rise of technology has eroded journalism, forcing companies such as Sports Illustrated to transition from traditional print to online while widely reducing staff. 

Generative AI entered the picture within the last few years, spearheaded by ChatGPT, a free-to-use engineered system to manufacture conversation and automate tasks. The State Press, Arizona State University’s student paper, was the latest publication to face generative-AI controversy, retracting 24 stories in April. A struggling industry is in the crosshairs of evolving technology, and the future appears murky.

“There are places where it can be very valuable and places where it can be very dangerous,” said Brett Kurland, an assistant dean and professor of practice at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. “So, it is not the boogeyman, but like with any technology it needs to be used responsibly…ethically and transparently.” 

Cronkite has embraced the use of generative AI in translating stories first written in one language before transcribing using AI software. The stories are then revised by an editor and feature an editor’s note stating the use of artificial intelligence. The use of transcribing through AI tools such as Otter AI or Adobe Premiere can transcribe lengthy interviews and save valuable time. While used as a tool, AI programs can be incredible, but it’s a slippery slope, warns Shane Brennan, a former State Press editor and 2024 Cronkite graduate.

“If you’re [in] journalism, your job is in danger in the next decade because of AI,” he says. “People are using it for illustrations and people are using it for captions. It’s going to be less of the intersection and more the day-to-day kind of overhaul…AI is cheaper and faster.” 

Sports Illustrated and Gannett have tried using generative AI, but have floundered. Sports Illustrated was caught publishing stories written by fake authors with AI-generated biographies in order to reduce costs. Gannett attempted to use Lede AI, an artificial intelligence company that used game scores to generate newsroom game stories. Both stories were littered with odd wording and nonhuman phrasing, catching the eye of their readership. Vincent DeAngelis, a former State Press editor and 2024 Cronkite graduate, says fingers on the keyboard is the only way.

“The person doing the story is the most important part,” DeAngelis said. “You’ve seen it through their lens as objectively or subjectively as possible. So, when you put a robot in there instead – and I know it’s pretty general—it just takes authenticity out of it. Say someone does reporting on an Indigenous reservation or something like that; if that starts getting AI generated, then we’re doomed.” 

Brennan added that there will always be a place for journalists, and there will also be those who will put in the work, but he can’t say the same for the industry. 

“I hope and pray that the jobs will not be taken over soon, and that there’ll be just as many jobs as there are in five years,” Brennan said. “At the end of the day, it is still dollars and cents, unfortunately. It’s happening in many other industries as well. AI has taken over a lot of different industries and spaces where it shouldn’t really be.”

Generative AI is only as good is its input, and being in the moment is incalculable. “AI cannot do what actual journalists can do,” Brennan said. “Because it is not human, we tell the stories of other people doing things. AI does not know what those things are. AI does not know context. AI does not know raw emotion. AI does not know how to connect with others. It’s just a stupid website. It’s a calculator. You know, it’s like a TI-84 (calculator) at best. Fortunately, the TI-84 didn’t take over accounting jobs.” 

The exponential rise of generative-AI and technology has pushed journalism to uncharted water, but there’s nothing that can ultimately replicate the complexities of the human mind. 

“I don’t see it as an existential threat to journalism,” Kurland says. “We need good reporting…and that’s what makes the best journalism, is good reporting. We talked about our reporting with your eyes, you know, describing the sights and sounds and what’s going on. You can never replace that.”



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