A recent story in The Washington Post reported on the use of AI generated stories in local papers owned by Gannett. It seemed to be used exclusively to report on local high school sports.
The uniqueness of the language led people who read the stories to mock them. Writing on local sports for local schools can be expensive to cover. It is kind of hard to be a local paper and not have local reporters not only for high school sports but for local stories on politics, people, and events. And sadly, having on the ground reporters is an all-too-uncommon occurrence today.
Gannett has suspended use of the AI company and claimed it was a trial to aid their journalistic staff. If they were using the program without reports or editors, then there wasn’t staff to help…only to replace. And that is the conundrum not only Gannett faces but every local newspaper. There is no substitution for feet on the ground.
Local newspapers are failing at an alarming rate. And while we may not know what high school team won in the future, these are the least of a community’s problems. It is coming to the point where the school board meeting is not being covered and the city hall beat is a thing of the past. How about that public interest story that is never told. Why is no reporter explaining the county commission’s decision about raising taxes. How come the local paper stopped in-depth reporting on any issue?
The less local news there is, the more chance that corruption will flourish. Deals will be made between politicians and developers. Democracy will die by a million cuts of benign neglect.
By not covering the local news, local papers become an afterthought for many. There are plenty of places to find out what happened in Washington. Regurgitation of wire stories on a local paper’s pages will not make readers want to stick around and pay for the newspaper.
Where do you find out what happened at the local water district? Mom & Pop local newspaper ownership succumbs to big chains that may have people covering stories via the internet. They wouldn’t know Main Street in Walton, NY from Main Street in Santa Rosa, CA. There is a disconnect that only leads to the spiral of less revenue from fewer ads and subscribers.
There is no substitute for shoe leather in covering a story. Knowing the local terrain is essential. The reporter needs to be part of the community he/she is covering. That is disappearing. Local radio is disappearing as are local television newscasts that tell us more than the weather.
We are in terrible trouble in this country. Because there is no arbiter of facts — facts are fungible — they are a belief system and not an absolute. That belief will lead to politicians trying to play fast and loose with their duty to the people. Sun shining into the inner workings of government prevents the little shortcuts that grow into larger corruption.
There are thousands of internet sites claiming to be news but mostly they are just big rumor mills. They seldom present just facts. Usually, they manipulate information so that their point of view is vindicated.
High school sports are not very important in the scheme of things. AI is not the answer to finding a cheaper way to do journalism. It is the public’s responsibility to support and pay for the valuable information that local media produces. Our society suffers without trusted local journalistic truth tellers.