We had four students ask questions of three journalists in a live webinar to examine the state of journalism. Together they peered into the future. 

A robot of the future files a story for the New York Times

A robotic sports reporter files copy for the New York Times in the year 2035. Photo illustration by News Decoder.

Perhaps artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be as scary as news reports have made it out to be. That was one surprising finding that came out of a live webinar on the future of journalism on 16 November.

As part of its annual giving campaign, News Decoder has been exploring the future of journalism. We decided to bring four high school students – Anais Popovici in Romania, Joshua Glazer in Spain, Isabella Caballero in Colombia and Aoife Flanagan in Italy – to ask questions of three correspondents: photojournalist Enrique Shore in New York, investigative reporter Norma Hilton in Toronto and foreign correspondent Tom Heneghan in Paris.

All the correspondents began by acknowledging that journalism is going through rapid change.

“We’re already starting to move away from legacy organizations like Reuters and Associated Press and things like that into more sort of niche publications that focus on specific topics like the environment or tech,” Hilton said. “And that’s been happening for a couple years now. And I think it’ll continue to happen.”

So how is the rise of digital platforms impacting traditional journalism? 

Popovici asked Heneghan how journalists can combat the challenges that arise with new technologies such as AI generated content.

He said that advances in artificial intelligence and deep fake technology will make fact checking and sourcing more important.

Anaïs Popovici

Anais Popovici

theneghan 150x150

“There will be certain teams or even departments that will check to see timestamps, check the geolocation information and things like that,” Heneghan said. “That’s going to come up more and more. What artificial intelligence takes away may actually create some other jobs.”

Joshua Glazer

Enrique Shore

Glazer asked how journalists would be able to call out faked videos where someone puts words into the mouth of the U.S. president, for example. “Because I think that could be really scary,” Glazer said. 

Hilton said fake news reports require journalists to be more vigilant and that makes for better journalism. “We’re learning new skills in order to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence and making sure that the truth is out there,” Hilton said.

Shore showed a photo of a penguin in a desert and pointed to a tag in the corner of the photo. He explained that it was an example of a new initiative by technology and media companies like Adobe and IBM and the New York Times called the Content Authenticity Initiative, used as a way of embedding information into a picture.

“You will be able to detect a true picture that has not been manipulated because all the information since a picture was captured and all the following modifications that have been done to the picture are registered in layers that are secured and are readable,” Shore said.

Caballero asked Hilton about the evolving relationship between reporters and their audience in an age of increasing interactivity and citizen journalism.

“What skills and approaches are necessary to engage and collaborate with the public effectively?” she asked.

Hilton said that the skill needed now is fact checking.

Isabella Caballero

Isabella Caballero

Norma Hilton

“I’ve noticed that because our newsrooms are shrinking, and there’s fewer and fewer people we are having to learn how to fact check,” Hilton said. “We are having to learn how to geolocate and do all of those things ourselves though, which is sometimes difficult because you’re having to keep up with an industry in an environment that is moving quicker than you can probably adapt to it.”

Aoife Flanagan

Flanagan asked Shore how he keeps things interesting when so much news is repetitive and shared on so many different platforms.

“Where do you draw inspiration from?” she asked.

He said keeping things interesting is the great challenge. “It has to do with, you know, your creativity and really your ethical principles,” he said.

Shore said he gets his inspiration from nature.

A member of the audience asked whether artificial intelligence would take over the jobs of journalists. Heneghan said that it might improve the job for journalists.

“It will take away a lot of the drudge work, the donkey work that journalists have to do,” Heneghan said. “It’s amazing how much work is done by somebody at a much higher level than what is actually needed.” Once those tasks are automated, the journalist can pursue more substantive stories, he said.

Hilton agreed that artificial intelligence would not replace journalism. At the beginning of the talk she noted that next year important elections would take place around the world. “And I think journalism is sort of the last line of defense between democracy and authoritarianism, and we’re going to need it now more than ever.”

In response to Heneghan’s comments about artificial intelligence possibly improving the job of journalists she added: “I don’t think AI is going to render us jobless because we are human beings telling stories about human beings and no machine can do that.”

To watch a recording of the full webinar, click here.

Questions to consider:

  1. How might artificial intelligence affect how journalists do their job?
  2. How can journalists ensure that photographs aren’t fake?
  3. What role do you think journalism will serve in the future?

Marcy Burstiner is the educational news director for News Decoder. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication at the California Polytechnic University, Humboldt in California. She is the author of the book Investigative Reporting: From premise to publication.

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