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Can Journalism Survive AI?

 |  March 26, 2024

By: Courtney C. Radsch (Brookings Tech Tank)

Can journalism withstand the impact of artificial intelligence (AI)? The viability of journalism in the AI era hinges on its ability to adapt its business strategies. Should policymakers intervene to rectify market imbalances, safeguarding intellectual property rights becomes paramount to providing journalism with a competitive edge against the tide of generative AI.

Over the past couple of decades, as technology giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft ascended to become some of the world’s most valuable entities, the United States witnessed a significant decline, losing a third of its newspapers and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists. These losses cannot be compensated for by AI.

Just last year, the U.S. journalism sector saw a reduction of 2,700 jobs, with an average of 2.5 newspapers shutting down weekly. Despite a 43% surge in traffic to the top 46 news sites over the past decade, their revenues plummeted by 56%. The overwhelming dominance of a few privately held tech behemoths based in Silicon Valley across digital advertising, publishing, audience engagement, data management, cloud services, and search functionalities has devastated journalism’s traditional revenue models on a global scale. Now, AI threatens to exacerbate this crisis.

Unlike human journalists, AI lacks the capacity to navigate courtrooms, conduct interviews with incarcerated individuals, console grieving parents affected by tragedies like school shootings, foster trust with whistleblowers, or courageously report from the frontlines of conflict zones. Furthermore, the absence of access to human-generated, high-quality content—essential for providing a relatively accurate depiction of reality, a service journalism excels in—jeopardizes the foundational models fueling machine learning and generative AI applications. This poses a risk of malfunction, degradation, and potential collapse of the entire system.

The swift progression of artificial intelligence serves as yet another conduit for a select group of influential tech corporations to reinforce their already formidable market dominance. This trend poses a formidable challenge for sectors such as journalism and the creative industries, making independence increasingly elusive and jeopardizing their ability to uphold a public interest orientation, as is imperative for the news industry.

The ongoing AI revolution further extends the “platformization” of journalism, amplifying the grip that a handful of tech giants maintain over our information channels and public discourse. Consequently, this exacerbates the existing threats posed by these corporations, diminishing the value of authentic journalism while exploiting the labor of millions of journalists and other professionals to bolster their models and develop applications that reshape economies and societies.