The Big Changes in Journalism: AI, Newspapers, and Everything In Between

PLUS: Please be a good iOS 18 beta tester

The Big Changes in Journalism: AI, Newspapers, and Everything In Between
Photo by Igor Omilaev / Unsplash

The U.S. journalism industry is in some serious trouble. A recent study from 2023 found that, on average, 2.5 newspapers shut down every week. And get this: total newspaper employment has dropped by more than 70% over the past fifteen years. While there are lots of reasons for this decline, money is a big one. Making revenue in the news business has always been tough, especially for local news. The financial struggles aren't the only issue, though. The rise of AI is shaking things up too, particularly Google Search.

Google's been turning its search engine into a one-stop shop on the internet using AI. This has online media companies worried that AI-generated content will keep people from visiting their sites, cutting their traffic and revenue. Google dialed back its AI use in search results because of complaints about bad responses, plagiarism, and the high costs of running AI for millions of users.

Even without Google's AI search, some people in journalism are using AI in shady ways. Take Gurbaksh Chahal, for example. In a report from The New York Times, he started BNN Breaking, a sketchy news site that falsely accused an Irish broadcaster of sexual misconduct. The reason for the false accusation: bad AI.

BNN Breaking had used an A.I. chatbot to paraphrase an article from another news site, according to a BNN employee. BNN added Mr. Fanning to the mix by including a photo of a “prominent Irish broadcaster.”

While this was getting reported on, Google took measure to limit content like this to users' search results. This didn't get enacted directly from the reporting from The Times, but I imagine BNN isn't the only bad actor doing things like this.

In March, Google rolled out an update to “reduce unoriginal content in search results,” targeting sites with “spammy” content, whether produced by “automation, humans or a combination,” according to a corporate blog post. BNN’s stories stopped showing up in search results soon after.

Afterwards Chahal cut his losses on BNN and decided it was time to move on from this kind of work to something more dignified: the exact same shit.

But Mr. Chahal wasn’t abandoning the news business. Within a week or so of BNN Breaking’s shutting down, the same operation moved to a new website called TrimFeed.

TrimFeed’s About Us page had the same set of values that BNN Breaking’s had, promising “a media landscape free of distortions.” On Tuesday, after a reporter informed Mr. Chahal that this article would soon be published, TrimFeed shut down as well.

Chahal isn't alone, there are loads of sites using AI to churn out content farms day in and day out with little to no human intervention. It's easy, fast, and if done right it will get you to the top of search engines, meaning more eyeballs, meaning ad revenue. Add on AI sites scraping the websites, even ones that explicitly say not to, and Microsoft's AI chief saying your content is "fair use" on the open web it's hard not to feel like the whole of the internet is beginning to be a part of Enshittification.

Newsrooms and AI Teaming Up

Some newsrooms across the country are tackling the AI issue in a less conventional way: by teaming up with them. Media giants like Time, News Corp, Vox Media, The Atlantic, and The Financial Times have all struck deals with OpenAI. While we don't know all the details, there are some common themes when you read their press releases.

First off, these partnerships let AI companies use the media's content to improve their AI models. This helps make AI-generated information more accurate and prevents legal fights over content scraping, like the one The New York Times has with OpenAI over copyright infringement.

Second, both the AI companies and media outlets say these partnerships are meant to boost quality journalism, not replace it. Whether that actually happens is still up in the air, but having these media institutions can be seen as a sign of good faith between OpenAI and news organizations.

These deals are also a show to policymakers that the news media and AI companies can manage themselves without needing any regulations. Businesses usually hate regulations, so they'll do whatever they can to avoid them.

My Take

Creating websites to share our voices has always been a double-edged sword. On the bright side, creatives and journalists can put out independent content. But it's also super easy to set up sketchy sites like BNN that misinform, annoy, or even harm people. But shitty actors have always been on the internet, and making decisions based on people like Chahal is a great way to never do anything online ever again.

AI can churn out reports and summarize other news online, like those from BNN Breaking, but it can't replace the core principles of journalism. AI can't go to court hearings, talk to families affected by actions or policy, or do the deep investigative work that's at the heart of real journalism. As long as these core principles stay strong and stay human, I don't see journalism as we know it disappearing any time soon. Could there be a harder time finding that real journalism as the tsunami of AI content farms hit us? Probably. But that is where people who are blogging online can share and curate the good content and allow more people to take notice.

That being said, I do think wading through the shit online is going to get more difficult as AI increases the output of bad site like BNN. Having articles written automatically via some automation and generative AI is easy, cheap, and fast; and there will be people who squeeze every penny from this model until it dries up. In time, I believe that this model will eventually get noticed more and more quickly which will provide less and less incentive for these kinds of sites. It is a game of whack-a-mole with these people and it always has been.

In the end, the future of journalism is all about balancing tech advances with journalistic integrity. Yes, the industry faces big challenges, but there's also a lot of potential for innovation and adaptation. By forming smart partnerships and focusing on the unique value of human-driven reporting, journalism can keep thriving in the digital age. Even with those partnerships ignored, it is up to the people online to point out the bad actors, bring them into the light, and praise the sites that are respecting its users.

Be a Good iOS 18 Tester

Now that WWDC has happened, iOS 18 is in the wild for developers and other Apple enthusiasts willing to cough up the $100 a year license. Developer Beta 1 is out, and many are sharing the cool things you can do with iOS 18, features that were glossed over the keynote, and of course all of the bugs that need squashing.

It is always fun in the summertime for tech fans to see how iOS develops, but there is one thing that often doesn’t get said enough: Apple make their biggest decisions for iOS in the first few developer betas.

If you are someone that has been following iOS developer betas for some time you may remember one of the many different issues over the summer between WWDC and new iOS launch in September. One of the more recent ones being how Safari was working in iOS 15 and the issues it came with. It was the feedback given from iOS 15 developer beta users that changed the overall look, design, and functionality of Safari when it was finally released in the Fall.

If you are using the iOS 18 developer beta, be sure to share feedback on not just bugs that you encounter but also design and user experiences. Those kinds of feedback aren’t as common but they are clearly taken seriously given Apple’s history.

So be a good beta tester and submit feedback regularly.

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Final Notes

It is super weird to be emailing you all again after so long away. Creatively I have felt lost for some time now, and I am working on that but I want to set some expectations for myself and share them with you so that you also know what to expect from me.

Send something when it is ready, not to be consistent.

  • I would love to have a consistent and high-quality newsletter. That is my dream, but I have to be realistic. I am working full-time, I am a new father with a 4-month-old daughter and a wife, and I have other obligations for my home and my life. I have bigger priorities than making sure I press send on a newsletter every week to "stay consistent". Does this mean that I won't do my best to send something out semi-regularly? Absolutely not. I truly want to have a newsletter to share with you 3-4 times a month. But I amnot going to promise you something will hit your inbox every Wednesday at 4pm.
  • This is also a quality issue. There have been times where I put consistency ahead of quality. Now I am aware that perfection is the enemy of progress, and I am not trying for perfection. What I am trying to avoid is jumbling some links together and saying "good enough."

Have fun with it

  • Newsletters are supposed to be direct extensions of the people writing them. It is a column from someone going directly to their subscribers. I want to make this fun for me, fun for my readers, and I want this to be something everyone looks forward to. So I will absolutely be experimenting with formats, adding things like narration, interviews, and more to just try it out and see what works. While I will always keep you in mind, I do want to experiment with this medium and see what works and what doesn't.

My hope is that these "rules" I am setting for myself and this newsletter will allow me to keep going on a semi-regular basis without burning out or fizzling away. I also hope that this keeps things interesting enough for you to want to stick around and give me 5-15 minutes of your time weekly(ish).

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