By: Jon Lavietes, Senior Associate
Last month, I was catching up with an old colleague of mine with whom I had survived countless rounds of layoffs at a global PR agency during the first dot-com crash. This colleague, who cut his teeth as a reporter in the dot-com boom before embarking on what is now a 17-year-and-counting PR career, said something very interesting in assessing his future in this profession.
“We won’t have any reporters to pitch [in the coming years]. It will all be done by AI,” he said, adding that the few jobs remaining for humans would be dedicated to intricate forms of reporting like investigative journalism or long-form writing.
Reporters certainly don’t need any more threats to their jobs—we’ve heard ad nauseum about the decline of newspapers, but even broadcast and new age SEO-driven online outlets, which were supposed to be better suited for today’s video- and Web-oriented world, are reducing staffs, too.
Mix in the continually declining revenue that results from publications’ struggle to find new revenue models in the face of consumers’ unwillingness to pay for journalism, and a news site might need robots to cover some beats that were once manned by humans who collected advertising-funded paychecks.
But come 2025, will we PR professionals be crafting pitches to trigger search terms that have been pre-selected by robot editors? Although even a novel-length exploration of this subject probably couldn’t definitively answer this question, we’ll make a condensed case in this relatively short blog post for why human journalists (and by extension, PR people) won’t be going away by then.
True, between artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language generation (NLG) and other “bot” technology, tools have emerged to piece together stories without human intervention. And, yes, the Washington Post, in particular, has been out in front in using automation to generate basic sports and election reports. However, bots can’t capture the emotion of an event that human eyes and ears can detect, such as that conveyed in a candidate’s tone of voice during a presidential debate or the elation of fans jumping up and down after a game-winning touchdown. Nor could they truly understand the tough, choose-your-own-adventure type of decisions faced by board chairmen, head coaches, chiefs of staffs and other organizational leaders on a daily basis. And even if you give the machines another decade or so, it’s doubtful they will be intelligent enough to put together in-depth looks at high-profile people, events or issues.
Bots are, however, already composing basic write-ups of baseball games, election-poll results and weather reports for respected news sources. They could also conceivably spin up recaps of earnings calls and new product releases soon. But is that cause for alarm? The men and women in the newsroom don’t seem to think so—at least not yet. If anything, the digital scribe is simply doing the “grunt work” that talented, ambitious reporters don’t want to waste their time on.
Editorial boards have visions of robots playing the role of editor—suggesting potential story topics based on clicks, shares and all of the other clues held in web activity stats. But even then, the safe bet is that they will augment an editor’s job rather than replacing it. They’ll gather key facts and data but at the end of the day it will still require a human brain to see the entire board and connect the dots.
In other words, these new machines have as much chance of overtaking the newsroom anytime soon as a typewriter.