Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

“It’s probably better to think of these tools as internal newsroom tools, making suggestions to reporters and editors rather than generating text that will be directly published.”

The hype online for OpenAI’s latest AI-driven chat tool is almost insufferable. Admittedly, ChatGPT is impressive and you should go play with it if you haven’t already. You can prompt the machine with requests like “Write three newsworthy headlines for this article”, or “Summarize this abstract without the scientific jargon” and it will probably provide a sensibly written response. Many in my feeds seem amazed with the quality of the text generated by the AI. Some even think it could be the death-knell of the college essay. The technology is poised to disrupt many aspects of media and communication industries by making content — not only text, but also visual imagery — easier to create.

We’re still early in the hype cycle, but in the next year I expect the field of journalism to soberly flesh out how such new tools might actually be productive. No, they’re not going to write ready-to-publish articles for you, despite the misleading headlines. But there are plenty of ways they might save bits of time on various newsroom production tasks. Journalists need to test the possibilities and boundaries of the technology and set to work exploring how these powertools can be adapted for their needs. Lots of experimentation is needed with writing prompts to get the most out of the AI. On top of that, serious ethical thinking is needed to consider when and how to use the technology responsibly.

These AI tools can already do a lot. For instance, they can rewrite text to simplify it for different audiences, summarize documents, write potential headlines, and brainstorm angles or potential directions for reporting. In data journalism they can be used to classify documents or extract data (with varying degrees of success), or to generate short snippets of text to render descriptions based on structured data. What else could be done with these tools?

There are of course limitations, including bias, nonsense text, and a range of other concerns. For news, the biggest issue is that the tools hallucinate with confidence, making them a ready tool for disinformation production. Any text these tools output still needs to be checked for accuracy and so may be ill-suited to specific tasks. It’s probably better to think of these tools as internal newsroom tools, making suggestions to reporters and editors rather than generating text that will be directly published. Research is blazing ahead to make future versions of the technology better able to output factually accurate text. And news organizations could also invest more in R&D to fine-tune and further adapt the models to be better aligned to journalistic needs. In the meantime, fact-checking should be a growth center for news organizations.

Like any other AI technology, it’s not a button to press to fix what ails news media. But I’m fundamentally optimistic about what might be done with these AI tools when used in responsible ways by journalists.

Nicholas Diakopoulos is an associate professor of communication studies and computer science at Northwestern University.

The hype online for OpenAI’s latest AI-driven chat tool is almost insufferable. Admittedly, ChatGPT is impressive and you should go play with it if you haven’t already. You can prompt the machine with requests like “Write three newsworthy headlines for this article”, or “Summarize this abstract without the scientific jargon” and it will probably provide a sensibly written response. Many in my feeds seem amazed with the quality of the text generated by the AI. Some even think it could be the death-knell of the college essay. The technology is poised to disrupt many aspects of media and communication industries by making content — not only text, but also visual imagery — easier to create.

We’re still early in the hype cycle, but in the next year I expect the field of journalism to soberly flesh out how such new tools might actually be productive. No, they’re not going to write ready-to-publish articles for you, despite the misleading headlines. But there are plenty of ways they might save bits of time on various newsroom production tasks. Journalists need to test the possibilities and boundaries of the technology and set to work exploring how these powertools can be adapted for their needs. Lots of experimentation is needed with writing prompts to get the most out of the AI. On top of that, serious ethical thinking is needed to consider when and how to use the technology responsibly.

These AI tools can already do a lot. For instance, they can rewrite text to simplify it for different audiences, summarize documents, write potential headlines, and brainstorm angles or potential directions for reporting. In data journalism they can be used to classify documents or extract data (with varying degrees of success), or to generate short snippets of text to render descriptions based on structured data. What else could be done with these tools?

There are of course limitations, including bias, nonsense text, and a range of other concerns. For news, the biggest issue is that the tools hallucinate with confidence, making them a ready tool for disinformation production. Any text these tools output still needs to be checked for accuracy and so may be ill-suited to specific tasks. It’s probably better to think of these tools as internal newsroom tools, making suggestions to reporters and editors rather than generating text that will be directly published. Research is blazing ahead to make future versions of the technology better able to output factually accurate text. And news organizations could also invest more in R&D to fine-tune and further adapt the models to be better aligned to journalistic needs. In the meantime, fact-checking should be a growth center for news organizations.

Like any other AI technology, it’s not a button to press to fix what ails news media. But I’m fundamentally optimistic about what might be done with these AI tools when used in responsible ways by journalists.

Nicholas Diakopoulos is an associate professor of communication studies and computer science at Northwestern University.

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

AX Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter