The newspaper business has been a part of my life for nearly 40 years, dating back to my early days as a Post-Bulletin route carrier.
As many in our industry would say, “I have ink in my blood.”
It’s truly a privilege to do what I do; to work with the people I work with. We have an amazing team that continuously strives to improve both our content and our presentation of the publication. As I’ve said during monthly meetings with our team, we should always be able to look back three to five years ago, and say that our newspaper looks better today than it did back then. Our readers may not always notice the subtle changes, but we are continuously evolving to better serve our readers and advertisers.
Our industry has always been about people. We get to talk to people, learn new things, and share their stories. It’s a vicarious experience.
In mid-July, I attended the Midwest Free Community Papers publisher’s summit in Dubuque, Iowa. Our daughter Olivia joined me for this two-day event. Since she just graduated from high school, it was great to spend some time together before she heads off to college. A little windshield time made for great conversations about a variety of topics.
While she didn’t believe me, I told her that newspaper people were cool prior to attending the event. She still didn’t believe me until we were a few hours into the conference. It’s a relaxed setting, which encourages everyone to talk about how their newspaper operates compared to others. While we may all do the same kind of work, one size doesn’t fit all. We all do things a little different, and it’s good to hear how others operate simply as a point of comparison.
One of the topics that came up at the conference was the use of artificial intelligence (AI). There was one newspaper in attendance that had a reporter who was using AI to write his articles. Once management found out, they told him that this wasn’t allowed. The company even went as far as incorporating language into their employee handbook to indicate that this went against company policy. That reporter was adamant that he was doing nothing wrong and he should be allowed to use AI to produce his articles. It really opened up a conversation about the use of AI. I’m sure it has a place in this world, and experiments are happening in all industries on a daily basis. However, along with myself, all newspaper publishers in the room felt news writing was not an acceptable use of AI.
We even talked about how there are students in schools submitting written papers to their teachers with the entire piece produced by AI, and students are being graded on these papers without teachers realizing the student didn’t write the paper. Isn’t that plagiarism? And, what are we learning when we use AI? Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I believe AI could have a negative impact on our study habits.
At the same time, we cannot overlook the efficiency of AI, and how it may prove to be beneficial in some areas. Time will tell.
Annual Reporters Meeting
On Monday, July 31, with the excellent leadership and coordination of our Assistant Editor Ellen Whalen, we held our annual reporters meeting. It’s a good time to talk about some of the challenges we face, questions that come up while writing stories, pick up some suggestions for producing better photos, and simply get acquainted. When we bring on new reporters, we often have them tag along with a seasoned reporter to learn the ropes. We have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience on our news team, and they support each other in various ways. On occasion, a reporter can’t make it to a particular meeting that they normally cover, and another reporter will step in to cover their beat.
During our meeting, I brought up the conversation we had at the MFCP conference about the use of artificial intelligence to write stories.
We had a great conversation about the authenticity of writing, which AI negates. There was mention of AI being used to write poetry, and I jokingly said I could go home and write a book of poetry that night with the use of AI.
That’s the world we live in now. You can take emotion and ideas – the entire human experience – out of the equation, and just have a computer create art. I recall back when our daughter, who is an artist, expressed concerns about NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Well, she likes artificial intelligence even less.
There seems to be something missing in the process. Fortunately, there’s so much AI can’t do. It certainly can’t be a reporter. It can’t sit through a three-hour city council meeting and capture the important decisions that need to be shared with readers. It can’t interview a person for a feature story, and take the time to truly understand and appreciate a person’s life experiences. It can’t replace the human condition.
I’ll close with this.
It’s probably already in the works, but I envision a remake of the 1986 popular Paul Simon song, “You Can Call Me Al,” to reflect our changing times. It won’t be “AL,” though. It will be “AI,” as in artificial intelligence. And we won’t need Paul Simon. I’m sure AI can handle it.