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Who needs a features writer when there is ChatGPT?

An animated conversation among journalists inside a pub somewhere on Kirinyaga Road caught our attention. We will save you from the details of verbal intercourse among seriously intoxicated members of the Fourth Estate and go straight to the moral and immoral of the story:  That very soon we might not need features desks in our newsrooms – that Artificial Intelligence shall take care of that.

“The thing will soon take over features desks and watch this space. It will take over hard news too!”

We checked, and yes, it is true. Features in our newsrooms, that art of playing with words to produce a masterpiece that only the finest editor can second-guess, might just be on AI’s chopping board.

We did a quick test. We typed the name of one of our own on ChatGPT and nothing deep, just a few random words came up: His name, his job, and his hobbies.

Then we requested ChatGPT to give us a quick write up about this highly Muggletonian fellow.

In a few seconds, we had our write-up, replete with a headline. A piece so beautifully written that it would not need any further input from any subeditor or a revise editor in our newsrooms today.

Here it goes.

XYZ: A journalist’s journey into the world of words

A seasoned journalist, XYZ has seamlessly blended the art of storytelling with the precision of news reporting. His love for poetry and writing serves as a testament to his multifaceted approach to communication.

 In the fast-paced realm of journalism, XYZ’s pen dances across the pages, crafting narratives that not only inform but also resonate with a poetic cadence. His articles are more than mere news; they are an exploration of the human experience, threaded with the elegance of well-chosen words.

Beyond the newsroom, XYZ finds solace in the rhythmic realm of poetry. His verses breathe life into emotions, capturing the nuances of existence with an eloquence that mirrors his journalistic prowess. Whether on the front lines of breaking stories or immersed in the introspective realm of poetry, XYZ’s passion for language is unmistakable.

As a journalist who loves poetry, XYZ embodies the idea that words are not just conveyors of information but vessels of emotion and imagination. His journey is an inspiring reminder that within every headline and stanza lies the potential to connect, inspire, and evoke a profound understanding of the world we inhabit.

And right there sprang an ethical issue with this Artificial Intelligence stuff. Suppose we were to put our by-line and send this beautiful piece to some newspaper, who would notice that it was written by AI?

Number two, suppose our XYZ read the piece and felt it was biased in some way, or too shallow, too thin on facts, or that the piece intruded on his privacy, who would take responsibility? Where would the buck stop? With the ‘reporter’ who simply keyed in a few prompts and had a feature story written for him in a few seconds? With the machine that wrote the story? With the editors who passed the story as a masterpiece? The newspaper that ran it?

What if, after this ‘masterpiece’ got published, XYZ felt wronged enough to sue, what would be the newspaper’s defence? That, “We are sorry we had no reason to believe that the said article was biased or lacking in fact; we did not realise that the offending article was written by a machine?”

Suppose the newspaper decides -as it should – to fire the reporter who filed the story, and suppose the ‘reporter’ sued, stuck to his or her guns that he or she wrote the article, how long would it take before dust finally settled on the matter before court?

Ladies and gentlemen, AI is already in our newsrooms. A report from the second global survey of news organisations conducted by the London School of Economics’ JournalismAI project in September indicates that, “A majority of news organisations globally are using artificial intelligence (AI) in at least one aspect of their work.”

Another report, this time from the Centre for News Technology and Innovation that was updated on December 1, 2023, states: “For newsrooms, the use of generative AI tools offer benefits for productivity and innovation. At the same time, it risks inaccuracies, ethical issues and undermining public trust.”

Now, we do not want to be the ones to say, “we told you so,” but we might as well say it here and now, that you have been served.

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