Gongol.com Archives: April 2023

Brian Gongol

April 30, 2023

Computers and the Internet Digesting the news

Julian Sanchez comments that "[I]t's hard to see how journalism remains viable in an environment where every story can be instantly rewritten for free without infringing copyright." He's right to be concerned, and further still, the worry ought to apply even more once one realizes the customization possibilities. It's not just possible to demand news summaries, it's possible to ask for the news rewritten by artificial intelligence in the style of particular writers. ■ A person could reasonably request: "Give me a 500-word summary of today's news from Chicago, written in the style of Mike Royko". The converging possibilities are hard to fully fathom, and they are absolutely going to complicate matters which are already thoroughly challenging. ■ Consider the decision by Sinclair Broadcast Group to fire the entire news staff at KTVL-TV in Medford, Oregon, and to do likewise at WNWO-TV in Toledo, Ohio. Substitute syndicated news programming will be used instead to fill the local news hole. ■ Medford is market #136 and Toledo is #80 (as ranked by population). Not huge, but not insignificant, either. If local news operations are getting eliminated in markets of those sizes, they could well be under threat in other, larger markets as well. ■ Already, companies like Futuri Media promise that they can deliver "cloud-based audience engagement" services -- like tools to report what content is drawing engagement in real time. And virtual newscasters are already out in the wild. Put those two together, and it might not even be necessary to have an "Action News" team on the payroll, especially if the audience is willing to submit "user-generated content". ■ But news depends not upon a popularity contest, but on news judgment: The ability of a human being to discern what meets the threshold of news and what does not. News is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo -- most everything else that gets reported is either information or mere events. Those have their place, but they aren't news. ■ Machines simply tracking a digital popularity contest have no idea how to tell the difference. In the short run, though, we shouldn't be surprised if more outlets cut back like the Sinclair stations are doing, nor if other outlets experiment with virtualizing their coverage. The incentives to generate "news" products on the cheap are strong, even if they're fundamentally bad for society.