AI Journalism and the Fate of Journalism in Pakistan

The print is dead. Cross-media ownership and centralisation is going to take over. The future is digital. And now, Artificial Intelligence (AI). The debate about the fate of journalism is an on-going one. While technological innovations are here to improve the system and output eventually with minimal costs, there is always another side of the story. The other argument is that the digitalisation and AI are going to result into cutting down of jobs in the market. Well, this has stood true to an extent in Pakistan. While exact statistics are unavailable, over 2,500 journalists have lost their jobs only in 2018. But this is what happens with anything and everything over a certain period of time. New mechanisms emerge, and the old ones have to go. Change is the only constant. And one has to adapt, move with time, and change accordingly to survive the test of time; otherwise one will be history.

About 50% of jobs are estimated to be lost to automation. The shift is here. All we can do is gear up for the change. In this debate, another concept that comes under discussion is “technological unemployment.” It occurs when developments in technology and the eventual working practices result in loss of jobs. New mechanics and technological innovations risk some jobs, and at the same time, new jobs emerge. At the same time, some skills benefit from the new technological innovations while others become obsolete because of them. Due to the technological shift, some skills become more valuable than others, and some become substitutable.

AI-enhanced journalism also offers a glimpse of the future of knowledge economy. The combination of AI and the next-generation networks are certainly going to create and open new possibilities and avenues for the media industry. AI journalism, automated journalism, and robot journalism are some of the terms that we hear today.

Newsrooms of prominent media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, New York Times, Viacom, and Quartz have already incorporated AI to increase their efficiency. It is helping the editors with routine work so that they are able to create high-impact journalistic pieces. Reporters also get help in sorting out documents to find relevant images, facts, figures etc. This in turn saves time and effort, and reporters and editors in collaboration are able to create better content utilising less time and effort. Machine learning is also helping them in figuring out what content interests the consumers more and hence, helps in targeting advertisements accordingly.

However, AI will not affect journalism as much as was assumed a few years ago, it seems. Machines will not be able to handle the process completely. AI will certainly contribute to innovative ways of reporting and using data. But journalists will certainly be of great significance when it comes to analysis, telling stories, adding context to things and last but not the least adding the human touch.

One way to survive the employment transition is to have a broader skill-set rather than specialising in one area. This will add to the flexibility to be able to adapt to changing job market. Another thing which will help is the retraining of available human resource.

The key to survival is certainly to be flexible towards change and adapt with time. Pakistan’s newsrooms, in general, are suffering stagnation due to the lack of implementation of innovative and novel approaches. The number of platforms has certainly increased, but the workflows are mostly old. Of course, AI can help innovate the workflow and process the data in a speedy manner. However, it should be clear that content is the king and shall remain so. However, we need to realise that growth is no more dependent on just advertisements and content. The digital space needs to be utilised and monetised. Also, the digital set up should evolve and adapt as the new technological innovations surface. Alternate business models need to be worked on. Also we need to realise that social media is a prominent force and is no more a one-way street.

As AI expands its interaction with our daily lives, the frequency of which is expected to increase in the future, there are several inquiries rising in our minds when it comes to news making and dissemination. Most importantly – how the data is dealt with before it reaches us. The usage of the algorithm in detecting a certain kind of media content is also of great significance.

AI broadly concerns the research area of replacing human intelligence and decision-making with machines. But for this, they have to be programmed to do so.

To understand the situation and assess its implications better, both the journalists and data/news consumers need to be educated about AI in general. Journalists will soon feel the growing need to editorialise the social concerns related to AI. They will have to be well-equipped in this regard. Journalists need to have sufficient knowledge on the AI technology and its implications on social lives. While journalists have the gatekeeping role and in a way they have the power and control over what people in general are informed about and how their opinions are shaped. The same goes for the public. It is not that they should know all the technicalities, but they need to understand how AI can affect their lives.

Since it has not been a long time that we came across the AI revolution, most importantly, journalists need to be guided, informed, and trained about this transition. Particularly the news teams need to understand the analytics. What needs to be understood is that AI can do processing, troubleshooting, and problem-solving for the problem for which the system was trained. AI can calculate the consequences of any real world problem, but the calculation can only be approximate. Human beings will eventually be needed to counter-check the flow. Otherwise, in case of any miscalculation, the results can even be fatal.

Another thing to be noticed is that yes human beings make mistakes, but over time, mechanisms are devised to deal with them. How much of that may be done for AI-related problems is yet to be explored in detail.

Afsana Afsar

Afsana Afsar is an Associate Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She also serves as an editor at The Nation.

Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password