Local news will come to rely on AI

“If we automate some commodity news, we can provide a lot more information to people who need it.”

Because I am prone to occasional bouts of procrastination, I dawdled quite a while on Nieman Lab’s request for a prediction. And then it hit me: Why should I do all the thinking, writing and self-editing, when the new ChatGPT gadget is just sitting there, eager to take a stab?

In that spirit of sloth, I asked my new overlords, “What is the future of journalism?” Within seconds, I felt transported to every lanyard-dangling, crappy-coffee-serving panel I’ve served on or sat through since 2002:

“Journalism is going through a period of transition, and there is still a lot of value in the work that journalists do. But the industry is going to have to change in order to survive…

“One of the biggest challenges facing journalism is the decline in advertising revenue. One potential solution is to charge for online content…Charging for content can be a risky proposition, as it can alienate readers and drive them to other sources of information. It can also be difficult to get people to pay for something that they have become accustomed to getting for free…

“The work that journalists do is important, and it plays a crucial role in our democracy.”

Not bad, right?

A lot of people — especially teachers, or professors like me — are worried about this tool. “The College Essay Is Dead,” warns a recent Atlantic piece. And yes, it does provide a way for procrastinating, slothful students to submit plausible essays. Maybe they won’t get A’s, but most of the pieces I’ve seen would likely be good for at least a B.

But I predict that editors at struggling metro dailies, or thinly staffed nonprofits that are charged with covering government bodies, will someday look at this as a boon. Local newspapers and sites are getting thin these days. It isn’t just that they’re not publishing as many Pulitzer-finalist series as they used to. They also aren’t covering as many school boards, legislative committees, real-estate sales, new-business openings, and the rest of the grist that used to fill the back pages of newspapers. Even obituaries are largely relegated to paid notices from relatives. And as this information dries up, citizens feel more estranged from the agencies that govern their lives and the officials who set their tax rates and hire their superintendents.

There’s good reason for this news deficit. After the budget-trimmers have left you reeling, you’re not going to have one of your remaining reporters mindlessly type in city-commission minutes when they could be out covering news. But if we can automate some of this commodity news, we can provide a lot more information — much of it useful, if not sexy — to people who need it.

There are pitfalls, of course. One is the concern that this will just serve as a convenient way to eliminate more staff. We’ve heard that before. “Automated Game Stories To Make Sports Writers Obsolete,” warned Business Insider about software that generates articles based on baseball box scores. That piece was published in 2010 — or about 12 years before The New York Times bought the Athletic for $550 million in cash.

The bigger pitfall is the garbage-in, garbage-out problem. You can’t simply tell an AI program, “What did the town council do today?” or “Who got arrested last week?” You have to supply it with some raw information. The box-score equivalent would be minutes from a meeting, or incident reports from a police blotter. Would that be perfect? No. Would you want to publish it unedited? No. Could it save your staff a lot of time and generate a lot of goodwill for your readers? Yes.

Editors will do this because they have to. And I think they should — because, and here I quote the experts at ChatGPT, “I believe that journalism is still a valuable and necessary part of our society.” And in conclusion, fellow journalists, I just want to reiterate that “I think the industry needs to adapt to the changes that are taking place.”

Bill Grueskin is a professor at the Columbia Journalism School.

Because I am prone to occasional bouts of procrastination, I dawdled quite a while on Nieman Lab’s request for a prediction. And then it hit me: Why should I do all the thinking, writing and self-editing, when the new ChatGPT gadget is just sitting there, eager to take a stab?

In that spirit of sloth, I asked my new overlords, “What is the future of journalism?” Within seconds, I felt transported to every lanyard-dangling, crappy-coffee-serving panel I’ve served on or sat through since 2002:

“Journalism is going through a period of transition, and there is still a lot of value in the work that journalists do. But the industry is going to have to change in order to survive…

“One of the biggest challenges facing journalism is the decline in advertising revenue. One potential solution is to charge for online content…Charging for content can be a risky proposition, as it can alienate readers and drive them to other sources of information. It can also be difficult to get people to pay for something that they have become accustomed to getting for free…

“The work that journalists do is important, and it plays a crucial role in our democracy.”

Not bad, right?

A lot of people — especially teachers, or professors like me — are worried about this tool. “The College Essay Is Dead,” warns a recent Atlantic piece. And yes, it does provide a way for procrastinating, slothful students to submit plausible essays. Maybe they won’t get A’s, but most of the pieces I’ve seen would likely be good for at least a B.

But I predict that editors at struggling metro dailies, or thinly staffed nonprofits that are charged with covering government bodies, will someday look at this as a boon. Local newspapers and sites are getting thin these days. It isn’t just that they’re not publishing as many Pulitzer-finalist series as they used to. They also aren’t covering as many school boards, legislative committees, real-estate sales, new-business openings, and the rest of the grist that used to fill the back pages of newspapers. Even obituaries are largely relegated to paid notices from relatives. And as this information dries up, citizens feel more estranged from the agencies that govern their lives and the officials who set their tax rates and hire their superintendents.

There’s good reason for this news deficit. After the budget-trimmers have left you reeling, you’re not going to have one of your remaining reporters mindlessly type in city-commission minutes when they could be out covering news. But if we can automate some of this commodity news, we can provide a lot more information — much of it useful, if not sexy — to people who need it.

There are pitfalls, of course. One is the concern that this will just serve as a convenient way to eliminate more staff. We’ve heard that before. “Automated Game Stories To Make Sports Writers Obsolete,” warned Business Insider about software that generates articles based on baseball box scores. That piece was published in 2010 — or about 12 years before The New York Times bought the Athletic for $550 million in cash.

The bigger pitfall is the garbage-in, garbage-out problem. You can’t simply tell an AI program, “What did the town council do today?” or “Who got arrested last week?” You have to supply it with some raw information. The box-score equivalent would be minutes from a meeting, or incident reports from a police blotter. Would that be perfect? No. Would you want to publish it unedited? No. Could it save your staff a lot of time and generate a lot of goodwill for your readers? Yes.

Editors will do this because they have to. And I think they should — because, and here I quote the experts at ChatGPT, “I believe that journalism is still a valuable and necessary part of our society.” And in conclusion, fellow journalists, I just want to reiterate that “I think the industry needs to adapt to the changes that are taking place.”

Bill Grueskin is a professor at the Columbia Journalism School.

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

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

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

AX Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

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

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

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

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

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

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

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

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

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

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

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

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

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

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

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

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

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

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

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

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

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

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

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

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

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

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

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

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

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

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

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

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

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

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

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

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

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

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

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

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

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

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

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

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

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

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

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

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

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

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

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

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

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

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

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

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

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

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

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

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

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

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

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

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

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

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

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

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

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

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

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

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

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

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

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

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

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

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

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation