Research indicates that upskilling is necessary for journalists to keep up with evolving AI technologies in the newsroom.
With the rising popularity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration in the workforce, the fear of AI becoming a competitor rather than a tool has left many journalists concerned for their futures.
Angela Misri is an Assistant Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Journalism program and lead researcher, alongside professors Nicole Blanchett and April Lindgren, currently working on a study examining the impact of AI on journalistic roles and ethical boundaries.
According to Misri, one of the challenges emerging from AI integration in the newsroom is a lack of awareness among Canadian journalists. It was apparent from her interviews many reporters did not realize what AI was or its presence in their professional lives.
“Most journalists I know are using AI, even the basic uses of Otter.ai,” said Misri, referring to speech-to-text transcription software. “That’s an AI program. [They are] already using it a lot in [their] world, I just don’t think there’s an awareness.”
There is also an apparent lack of transparency regarding the ethical use of AI in journalism.
Many of the subjects interviewed believed that everyone was working under the same journalistic ethics, as Canadian journalists follow the guidelines by the Canadian Association of Journalists.
While others agreed that there was a need to talk about the ethical use of AI among journalists, Misri noted that not many people outside of academia were having these conversations yet.
“The assumption that we would just take care of that at some time in the future was a little nutty to me as a journalist myself and as someone who has worked in a newsroom,” she said.
Some journalists are comparing the rise of ChatGPT to the emergence of podcasts or Virtual Reality (VR), and don’t believe their position will be influenced by AI.
“Everyone is being affected by the AI that is coming into your newsroom,” Misri said. “If your newsroom is deciding to publish content on the same website where you’re writing content, and that content was created by an AI, that is your problem too.”
Misri sees AI as parallel to the introduction of the World Wide Web, a disruptive force rather than a destructive one.
Much like AI, the introduction of the internet led many journalists to upskill and newsrooms to change. The profession still exists—just in different ways.
“We adapted, that’s the way I look at it. The internet has disrupted journalism massively, but it didn’t destroy what was there before,” said Misri. “If we are smart about this, we can use [AI] to enhance everything we’re doing. And take the work that was grunt work before and make that the AI’s job and give [journalists] the creativity and the space.”
Misri added that the journalism industry has a problem with short-term and long-term thinking when introducing new technologies in the workplace.
She cites a recent example when Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, announced he would be using generative AI to create quizzes and content for the platform. This announcement was made right after the company laid off approximately 15% of its workforce at BuzzFeed News.
According to Misri, the issue with such short-term thinking is that those in power and with money are looking to use AI as a cheaper alternative to replacing their journalists rather than a tool to help make their lives easier and enhance their work.
“If we were mature enough as an industry, as a career, as a space, we would be looking at this as an opportunity,” she said. “But too many of us are looking at this financially and thinking about how we can save money or if we could lose our jobs.”
Based on these findings, journalists need to upskill and learn about this new technology to stay on top of evolving newsroom practices.
Outside of academia, Misri has not seen much open discussion surrounding AI literacy.
“I would love it if corporations would actually put aside some time and money to have people look at this, put aside a committee of five or six people, and your job is ‘how can I make each of these journalistic products better using AI?’”
As a journalist and an educator, Misri intends to dedicate time to talk about the benefits of AI technology in journalism with her students. Discussions surrounding tools like ChatGPT and other AI products can help them prepare for the workforce.
“I can only educate who I can educate. I can’t go into a newsroom at CBC and tell them. So my hope is that we all stay aware and share each other’s information about how we’re using AI effectively.”
Misri also recommends journalists attend conferences, educational forums and continue to read and learn about these rising advancements through trusted journalism.
“[AI is] gonna start to become more understood within newsrooms, just like the web, it’s the same thing,” she said. “People will start to understand the values and the use of the web, and some of this hysteria will go down and we will start to understand how [AI] will make our lives better.”
Misri recently presented her research findings at the Between ideals and practices: Journalistic role performance in transformative times conference held at Toronto Metropolitan University on May 24, 2023