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Welcome, robot overlords
Not since the Terminator movies and the sweet, dystopian paranoia about a machine-ruled future they produced, has mankind been more concerned about the growing threat of technological takeover.
It’s a simple formula, employed by movies and poets and other creative freaks for centuries: one day, our technology will be so refined and perfected, they will make us, the creators of said technology, obsolete.
Journalists are starting to feel the same twinge of fear. For several years, software programs and techno-enthusiasts have lauded the development of what they call Robo-journalism.
Software programs are being perfected to write news and sports stories based on information they receive about the topic. These programs have grammar and style down to a cold, calculating science.
Of course, real journalists scoff at the idea of being replaced by a robot. No machine can match the improvisation, the attention to detail and the raw curiosity it takes to be a working newsman. In its current state, the programs are used primarily on sports stories (much to the dismay of sports writers everywhere, certain that their fellow journalists were just beginning to take them seriously.)
But of course, there are further implications. As if the field already depressingly empty and shrinking of talent or daring needs another reason to fail and underperform.
While working editors don’t take the technology seriously, qualified men in white coats and fancy goggles keep saying the capabilities of the programming are revolutionary. But there is a simple reason no working (or future) journalist should be worried: Robojournalism is already here.
Too often, newspapers and television stations of record comply with the easy, simple message of a PR statement or a cue-card quote. More than one journalist has surrendered his dignity, passion and power for the easy answer and the quick story.
Real journalism is dying fast; you might hear the death rattle if you press your ears to the TV during the nightly news, between commercials for gold bonds and Gold Bond. Any journalism that doesn’t pursue the absolute truth with hostility and energy is Robo-journalism. My fellow journalism students here at The Journal must understand that we cannot emulate media as it is today, but as it could one day exist.
It is this generation of journalists who will need to redefine journalism, or witness its sad, sluggish death at the hands of white-knuckle corporate ownership.
The unwarranted media coverage of meaningless vanities and hopeless causes is already here. There is no depressing future to look forward to, because we are living it. Robo-journalism is failure when anyone other than a robot does it. The job of a true journalist is not to operate under a “copy-and-paste” style of reporting. Genuine, thoughtful questions will occasionally garner reasoned responses.
Cookie-cutter stories and refrigerator journalism are more dangerous to our profession than any robot or software programmer.
Laziness, complacency, groupthink and dishonesty will do more damage to the media than any robot takeover — provided the robots don’t have lasers. When reporters transform into stenographers, when editors become censors and puppets, when newspapers sacrifice the truth for the delicate sensibilities of their readers, Robo-journalism succeeds.
So don’t fret over robots taking your jobs, dear journalists of the dark and bloody ground. Humans are doing us way more damage.