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Investigative journalism - could a robot do it?

Journalism is more than just the final article; it’s about how a story is uncovered and the human interactions that take place to make it happen. With fears of AI replacing humans across all industries, the question whether journalism is safe from the rise of the robots is crucial.  

The session began with a discussion on the importance of humans in journalism and how the changes in this digital age have led us to evolve how we create stories as a publisher. Technologies will soon impact the online publishing world are becoming an integral part of the digital ecosystem. But for us, there are some things that a robot could never replace. Kim Sengupta, defence and diplomatic editor, explained what it takes to be a journalist. As Kim argued, “sometimes you can only cover a story by embedding yourself within an army or force” and that “when you are part of a force, you become a target”.

Will Gore, deputy MD of The Independent and The Evening Standard, led a lively discussion on the role of humanity in journalism. How robots would find stories was front of mind for most and many questioned how a robot would be able to build the relationships to get the information needed for robust journalism.

The debate moved onto the issue of “fake news”. Unsurprisingly, it was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, questioning how a robot could discern what makes a real story. Probing the information supplied to find out what is real and what is false is key to build a substantiated story. Ultimately, it is a human endeavour to find where the truth lies.

A final pillar necessary for effective journalism mentioned is the actual delivery of a story. Journalists spend their lives communicating stories with readers and creating emotional connections. To be skilled in this area, you need to have empathy, something that no robot can have.

At the end of the session, we asked everyone to take a sweet out of either a YES or NO jar indicating their response to the question, Can a robot deliver news you trust? The answer … well the picture shows the overwhelming view of the audience.

Dan Locke, Chief Agency Strategy Officer, ESI Media