Inside the mind of the 2020's news journalist.
In years to come, we will ask how we got here. Into a world riven by deep fakes, disinformation, and A.I in every industry, including journalism. We got here because we ignored the signs. We got here like we always did, by assuming it was someone else’s problem.
Mainstream media has often been singularly focused. It’s an affront to their business model to change lanes. If it’s not broken why fix it eh? The shards of different journalistic practices we see today is a direct result of this intransigence.
Back in 1999 Google could have been part owned, or perhaps in its entirety by a corporate news outfit. They declined. The journalism industry was generally skeptical of the Internet, and was at a loss at how it could be maximised as I highlight in this article for the Press Gazette in 2006.
When “Did you Know” released their video in 2007 expressing radical changes because of digital, it left many aghast and has become a meme for corporate presentations, looking to the future, the creation of jobs that do not exist as yet.
A new train is coming, conferences will be filled by the status quo. Yet journalism is nothing if not resilient, and the market place adapts, but the new challenges pose frightening, if not, existential problems.
IBM’s Watson provides editing points for a trailer for a sci-fi film, Morgan. Lexus have A.I. determine the narrative of a commercial by feeding it with data, and a new powerful A.I. is so convincing as a writer that only a limited version of the product has been released.
This isn’t to alarm those starting in the industry, but to give you a heads up. Because aside from A.I. deep fakes, the complexities of the disinformation war will get ever forceful. The Great Hack showed a face of it, Adam Westbrook’s New York Times’ piece Operation Infektion, drew on Russian disinformation and active measures as the elephant in the room, whilst Cambridge Analytical’s video showed the undue power of psychographics.
If the route to journalism audiences is via generic demographics, age, sex, origin, marketing analytics says you’re behind the curve.
By 2023, it’s an educational guess that these things, A.I. ( deep fakes) and disinformation will have a life of their own. If you’re outside looking into the industry, what now? How do you prepare for that?
The truth is the journalism industry (it really shouldn’t be called that, as it’s not one body) is reticent, or agnostic, drawing on its Darwnism mode of survival. Outside of mainstream finding jobs that don’t exist provides the head wind that will do to solve future problems.
Writing in the Guardian, George P Lakoff and Gil Duran comb over Trump and how he’s turned words into weapons and that he’s winning the linguistic war.
Scientists, marketeers, advertisers and salespeople understand these principles. So do Russian and Islamic State hackers. But most reporters and editors clearly don't (see below).
Most reporters? Some excel.
If it were easy to think what has cognitive studies and understanding the foundations of behaviourism got to do with journalism, then sadly, conventions and heuristics in journalism has won.
The war started a long time ago in the 1900s but was shrugged off; Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, and Professor Laswell who said in a 1933 article for the Encyclopedia of the social Sciences.
The masses are still captive to ignorance and superstition. The arrival of democracy in America and elsewhere has compelled the development of a whole new technique will show largely through propaganda.
In Thinking Fast and Slow, Award winning Daniel Kahneman talks about instinct (see pg 222–254), a system of actions explored too in Lexus’s video determining how A.I. could create an attractive commercial. Instinct is what we unguardedly largely bring to the table; a confluence of our environment of self. Kahneman cites the Meehl test, which considered how statistical formulas for progression are better intuitive judgements— even amongst professionals.
Consider this, you want to put together a report on an issue you know little about, but consider yourself intelligent. The instinct would be to attack the task based on prior knowledge. An alternative would be to devise, or otherwise seek a set of parameters which frame what makes a report immersive.
By studying sets of previous reports that are well received this will provide you with data, that by Meehl’s findings, are better than instinct. In a sense you’re human to what A.I.seeks to achieve. Main difference is you’re not as fast and can’t match an algorithm for crunching large data.
In 2006, when bloggers challenged the hegemony of journalism professionals, they could argue who needs a journalism degree? Instinct! Instinct, the art of writing got you through. Instinct, helpful such as it is, can’t quite square up to critical knowledge. If one is about flight (needed), the other is about thinking why run.
Yet Instinct’s magic has its place in “everyday experience of memory”. When is a professional’s intuition, related to skill, trustworthy, asks Kahneman. As a skill when its been learned over a lengthy period and the environment for learning is predictable.
Critical thinking hovers around first and second spot in 2015 and 2020. Where might it be in 2023? And what about emotional intelligence, complex problem solving, the flexibility to think differently ( cognitively) where might they fare? If you really needed to they’d be co-equals, inseparable.
The machines are coming says an executive in the Lexus A.I film. Journalism’s many fields will likely hold their ground. We will tweet, tik tok, video, write, speak, but what’s the currency for that and journalism if we fail to engage in ways that makes journalism what it is, or should be? A storytelling unearthing things in the thickets of corruption, and shenanigans, of writing stories that bring clarity to hidden issues, or to bridge understanding when it’s required.
Our three experts I interviewed at Cardiff’s Future of Journalism conference reflect on their own, with overlaps with my own exposition.
Journalism is not a fixed formula of ideas. It’s what’s impaled us. It is the passionate use of storytelling and diverse ideas ( race, class, gender), and its impact on people.
Back in 1994 as thirty youngster disrupted the UK journalism industry, we faced up to the conventions of journalism and the threat ahead. There’s a way to get into 2023 effectively, and it’s done through the richness and boldness of re-versioning what we think journalism is and what it could be. That’s the ongoing conversation!