What can journalists do that some Generative AI tool can’t?

Ask ASBPEDavide Savenije is the editor-in-chief at Industry Dive and the president of ASBPE’s board of directors. “Ask ASBPE” is an advice column where Davide and a rotating cast of subject matter experts answer the most pressing questions from the B2B publishing community. You can ask ASBPE your question through our contact form.

Sure, the long-term, disruptive potential of Generative AI is very real — it could dramatically reshape media business models, content production, and the jobs of many journalists. But we are still in the early days of the technology. It remains more productive in theory than reality — I’m pretty sure we spend a lot more time talking about how generative AI can save us time than saving time with it. 

The response of the journalist community — and the wider media ecosystem — has veered from the highly allergic (“I hate AI and everything about it!”) to the blindly bullish (“Soon, we won’t need humans to produce all our content!”). 

Don’t believe the hype — nor the cynicism, for that matter.

The reality is, AI doesn’t care what you or I think about it. The rapid penetration of AI technologies won’t slow just because some of us don’t like it. The economy quickly rewards any technology that can more cheaply, more easily do a job that humans do. It’s simply the way that capitalist markets work — with brutal efficiency. 

This forces us to ask ourselves a very big, and very deep question: What is the future of journalism (and journalists) in the age of AI? 

In my mind, this ultimately comes down to: What can journalists do that an AI can’t?

The Truth about AI Content

Let’s be honest: most AI-generated content today sucks.

Can it call up a CEO’s cell phone number for a fresh quote? Can it analyze an industry development with decades of subject matter expertise? Can it report and write a story that meaningfully advances the industry discourse? Can it walk the trade show floor and observe patterns in what people are talking about? Can it develop a relationship with readers and build a brand? Can it tell a story that people can trust and want to read?

If you want to produce truly original and indispensable content for your audience, you still have to do it the old-fashioned way. You need to develop and talk to sources. You need to ask insightful and perceptive questions. You need to connect the dots on what you’re hearing and seeing. You need to synthesize and conceptualize a story that’s uniquely valuable for readers. You need to write with voice and personality to engage your audience. You need to be human. (ASBPE will explore this topic in greater depth in our July 30 webinar, Be Human: The Power of Voice and Being Human in the Age of AI Gobbledygook.)

If you want to regurgitate a press release or rewrite the same news story every other site is covering — sure, AI can do that for you. Generative AI may be able to cheaply and quickly produce content. But AI writes with all the skill of a very promising 7th grader. And it won’t go beyond regurgitating the content that’s already published online. 

The term “generative AI” at the moment seems more of a misnomer. At best, the technology is far more effective at being “assistive” than “generative” when it comes to creating content. It can help brainstorm headlines, summarize a report, point to original sources, and help create outlines. But it can’t produce original reporting and insight, and it also can’t be trusted to fact-check itself. 

Like any other tool, it’s only worth using if it helps us do our jobs more efficiently, effectively or easily. Smart media companies will find ways to use AI to help journalists produce original and valuable content and give them more time to do so — not replace the most valuable things that only journalists can do. 

“Journalism thrives on trust — trust in reporters’ research, their perspective, and the distinctive voice they use to engage readers,” said Travis Hessman, VP of Content at Endeavor Business Media. “AI can do a lot today, but it simply can’t deliver the genuine, relatable content that readers crave.”

The age of AI is upon us. But the most essential functions of journalism can’t easily be replaced by AI. I expect we will increasingly use AI to help us do our jobs more easily and efficiently — and create more space and time for journalists to do the real original reporting, analysis, writing and editing that readers value most. 

In the immortal words of Jonathan Maze, editor-in-chief at Restaurant Business: “I’d like to see an AI make my smart-ass comments.” 

If you are interested in learning more about how journalists can adapt in a time of AI, sign up for our July 30 webinar, Be Human: The Power of Voice and Being Human in the Age of AI Gobbledygook. 

Davide Savenije

Davide Savenije is the editor-in-chief at Industry Dive. He leads the strategy and direction of Industry Dive's fast-growing newsroom with 20+ trade publications for 2+ million subscribers. Savenije helped define and build Industry Dive's editorial vision, strategy, culture, and team of 100+ world-class business journalists. Before becoming editor-in-chief, he started his career as an intern at Industry Dive in 2012 and wore many hats as an editor and manager in leading the development of publications like Utility Dive and Retail Dive into industry leaders.

Savenije currently serves as president of the ASBPE National Board of Directors.

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