Bonn: Axel Springer SE, Europe's largest publishing house, has announced that it will replace a range of editorial jobs with artificial intelligence (AI). In an email sent to staff on Monday (June 19), Springer said that it would "unfortunately part with colleagues who have tasks that will be replaced by AI and/or processes in the digital world. The functions of editorial directors, page editors, proofreaders, secretaries, and photo editors will no longer exist as they do today."
The job cuts at Springer, home of news brands such as Bild and Die Welt, stoke fears that AI will throw the whole world's media industry in disarray. Chatbots such as ChatGPT could be used to write news stories, making human journalists obsolete.
AI has hacked humanity
"For the first time, the machine itself is creating language", said Ranga Yogeshwar, one of the leading independent science journalists in Germany. At DW's Global Media Forum in Bonn, Yogeshwar discussed how generative AI is transforming content creation. "The machine has hacked our culture, our civilization", he said.
The Reuters Institute Digital News Report has declared 2023 the "breakthrough year for artificial intelligence and its application for journalism". It states that AI transcription tools are already routine in newsrooms, with many also using them for selecting stories they recommend to users, creating subtitles, and text-to-speech.
Some media companies are experimenting with virtual news anchors. And apps like "Artifact" are already providing AI-generated summaries of online news stories to readers.
AI empowers journalists
But some media analysts believe that AI, taking over mundane tasks, will free up journalists to focus on investigative reporting and deep analysis. "I think we'll start to see more and more news organisations being able to punch above their weight", said Nilesh Christopher, South Asia correspondent for "Rest of World", an online publication covering the impact of technology.
At DW's Global Media Forum in Bonn, he cited the open-source research collective "Watchdog Sri Lanka" as an example. "They are not a large organisation, five to six editors. However, they have been able to feed their long-form reported pieces into an open-source machine-learning system. And now they have a chat interface that you can ask: what has happened to Sri Lanka since former president Rajapaksa returned to the country? And that is the future I would like to see."
He pointed out that only journalists could provide context to news stories. Humans could not be beaten by AI when it comes to creativity, critical thinking or ethical judgment. "Journalists will remain at the center. We cannot be replaced", said Christopher.
AI produces fake news
"We have a new tool which out of the box can speed up certain processes" science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar agrees. "With AI, we have a catalyst that is going to produce much more content than humans can."
This content could however be misleading or fake. "From now on, we cannot trust content. And this is not only true for present facts but also for past facts. You can literally change history. and who is going to be able to fact-check this?" Yogeshwar argues that politicians should regulate AI before it can shake the pillars of society.
Many journalists hope that the demand for unique stories researched and told by humans will grow when people have had enough of AI-produced news. But even if this turns out to be true, thousands of editors, like those at the German tabloid Bild, might already have lost their jobs.