A journalist using an artificial intelligence tool in a newsroomCredit: Image generated by Abstract Painting Generator, an AI-powered tool by DeepAI
When it comes to artificial intelligence in the newsroom, journalists generally fall into two camps: those who have a bit too much faith in its abilities and those who would not touch a new machine-learning tool with a bargepole.
ChatGPT, an AI-powered tool that has been trained to generate human-like responses to prompts, has made headlines. Some news organisations even used it to write articles, which was a bad idea.
That does not mean though that ChatGPT cannot be of use to journalists. As long as you are clear on what it can and cannot do, the tool can help you out with some menial tasks so you can focus on the stories that matter to your audience.
When working with ChatGPT, keep in mind that it is smart, but not that smart. It is a machine that has no intentions - it does not want to help or mislead you, it has no concept of what is real and no morals. It is just what it says on the tin - it generates text based on a lot of information it has been trained on.
Because of this, you need to fact-check absolutely everything it generates. It goes beyond what you would need to verify if the text was written by a human: ChatGPT will almost always answer your question and if no real information is available, it may make one up. Fact-check maths, names and places and always make sure that everything, well, exists.
The tool is also known for biased answers. It has been trained on what humans, past and present, have written about women or minorities. Although it has been reportedly trained not to give sexist or racist answers, make sure you do not use anything that may cause harm.
Now we got this out of the way, here are some clever tasks ChatGPT can help you with:
1. Generating summaries of large texts and documents
ChatGPT is fairly good at summing up long pieces of text. This comes in handy when you need to quickly scan new reports, studies and other documents. You can even ask the tool to give you the most important points, pick up a quote or find information about the author(s).
2. Generate questions and answers
Useful when you are working on a topic you are not that familiar with or looking for new angles. ChatGPT can help you conduct research about events, individuals and pretty much anything else. As always, triple-check everything it comes up with as it cheerfully makes stuff up if it does not know the answer. For instance, you can ask it to give you names of experts to interview about a given topic and it generally comes up with sound suggestions. However, if the topic is too niche, the tool may generate totally fictional names that sound like they could be experts from, say, a particular country.
3. Providing quotes
This is a controversial one. You can ask ChatGPT to look for quotes from a particular individual and chances are that it finds it. However, take extra time to check where the quote comes from as it can be another writer’s work - and this is plagiarism - or it can be made up.
4. Generating headlines
If you are doing A/B testing, challenge yourself with your headlines vs the AI. You can ask it to make the headline funny, negative, or positive, remove the jargon or make it into a specific number of words. Shame that ChatGPT really struggles with maths - always count the words in the final result and ask it to rewrite it if it made a mistake (it almost certainly did).
5. Translating articles into different languages
Like any other AI-powered translation tool, it is very approximative and you will have a few good laughs along the way. However, it can come in handy if you need to get a general sense of the text in a different language. If you want to get something a bit more accurate, you better stick with Google Translate.
6. Generating email subjects and writing emails
Outsourcing one of the most tedious office tasks to a machine sounds like a dream. Although you will need to edit the final version, ChatGPT can speed up the process of emailing your sources or colleagues as you can generate a sound message with one swift prompt. Just fill in the blanks and send it away. A genuine time-saver.
7. Generating social posts
Like emails, posting on socials is useful but terribly time-consuming. You can ask ChatGPT to write a tweet or a LinkedIn post on a topic, freeing your time and brainpower for more worthwhile writing.
8. Provide context for articles
As with all the tasks above, this one can be hit-and-miss. You can ask ChatGPT to give you context about a news story, say, why the UK railways are on strike this year, and it can find quite accurate information. Always double-check though.
It can also explain how something works, which can be useful if you need to add a short explainer in plain language to your piece.
Although many people fear that ChatGPT can be used to write articles, this is not (yet) the case. Its writing is painful to read. It cannot go to a news event, sense that someone is not telling the truth, or connect with another human who is being interviewed. So go and have a play around with the tool and see if it can save you some time and effort, without putting too much trust in its abilities. After all, it is an assistant, not a master.
Artificial intelligence is changing the way we approach journalism. Join our panel of experts at Newsrewired on 23 May to learn more about how it could impact your newsroom.