Journalists are currently facing an unprecedented challenge. The relentless 24/7 news cycle, coupled with layoffs, an uncertain business model, and a growing public distrust of media, is putting immense pressure on us. This comes at a time when the world is becoming increasingly complex, and journalists need to contextualize fast-paced news and help a divided audience understand the bigger picture, from the roots of conflicts to the future of humanity.

Setting the Stage

It is no small task, particularly as newsroom budgets are shrinking. Venerable news outlets such as the LA Times, the Washington Post, and CBS News have offered buyouts or eliminated positions in the last year. By one estimate, 528 news layoffs happened in January 2024 alone and could reach 10,000 for the year.

Artificial Intelligence in Practice: Journalism

At the same time, artificial intelligence gives those of us in media both consternation and hope. The damaging impact of deep fakes and fake news is very real. News consumers often don’t know if what they see and read is real. Bad-behaving politicians, business leaders, and other public figures now have a plausible response to unfortunate hot mic incidents or leaked videos: that wasn’t me when it truly was.

Some outlets have turned to AI to write stories (sometimes to cringe-worthy results); see that time when Gannett used AI to write high school sports stories. Yet, news companies have used machine-assisted programs for years to write data-driven stories such as weather and stats-heavy sports and stock market reports. New uses include transcribing documents written in other languages and creating a transcript of audio and video recordings, which saves a ton of time for reporters working on deadlines and on longer investigations.

Practical and creative generative AI programs open up many opportunities for journalists working under the gun to report and create content that can help the public understand this complex world. That is why I am (mostly) a fan.

AI in the Classroom

At the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, I have been at the forefront of integrating AI into coursework. I am a member of several provost-level committees working to figure out how our university should approach AI and learning. We agreed early on to be a mentor and not a cop when it comes to using AI in the classroom. Individual faculty members have the final say in whether to allow students to use AI in their work for a specfic class. The newsrooms at Cronkite are formulating a policy on when and how to use GenAI, as we are integrating an AI-powered production tool into the daily workflow.

At my innovation lab and other courses I teach, I allow the students to research and evaluate different GenAI programs. For example, in my Business and Future of Journalism course (which is mandatory for journalism undergraduate students), we discuss the rise of AI, the danger of deep fakes, and the efforts at detection. In my innovation lab we are using GenAI to create a series of interactive vignettes to tell the stories of the founding of the United States in 1776. The “semiquincentennial” will be celebrated in 2026, but communities, historians, and descendant groups have already begun commemorations. My students and I are creating content for Arizona PBS in connection to the Ken Burns six-part film on the American Revolution, set to air in Sept 2025.

GenAI has allowed my students to go from novices to interactive, gamified story creators in just a few short weeks. Students in each semester since the summer of 2023 have researched unsung participants to tell the rich stories of women, free and enslaved African Americans, poor whites, and the landed gentry who contributed to the revolutionary effort. With GenAI and real-time production tools, we can create a farm in North Carolina with a sky and background scenery created by Blockade Labs, interactions facilitated by Mixamo and Spatial.io, and artifacts brought to life using Lumalabs or Meshy. We research the accents of Colonial-era people and then create voices in Eleven Labs or Play.HT to bring to life their stories which are based on journals or historical documents. We use Transkribus to make Old English script and 250-year-old documents easier to read. We’ve created small animated videos in Pika to power a choice-based game to help younger people understand how dangerous it was to buck the crown in the mid-1770s. We use MetaTailor to help fit period clothes on basic models.

Keeping up with AI Innovation

I learn about new tools and innovative platforms by consuming everything I can, from YouTube videos by creators who showcase how they use the tools, to reviewing news articles about the impact of these new technologies. I’ve fallen asleep many nights watching a video on the latest announcement by OpenAI or Microsoft. Then I try my hand at replicating what I watched before teaching my students. Sometimes they bring new tools to me that they’ve discovered and we learn together. It can be overwhelming because the pace of change is fast, and I say that as someone on the founding team of the Washington Post’s first website after years in the Post newsroom. The evolution of GenAI makes those early, crazy experimental Web creation days seem leisurely.

At the end of the day, we are still all about the story, the history, and the reporting. GenAI has empowered me and my students to create the content that we can see in our minds but were limited in what we could do previously, especially without a big budget. We still happily hire artists with special skills in avatar creation and architectural reproduction but love the fact that GenAI allows us to build so much ourselves.

I know that GenAI will mean many jobs will be lost, others will be transformed, and others will be created, especially for those without years of experience. I know that maligned actors will use GenAI to fool a public already on edge. I believe in the efforts of people trying to create the light that will expose those misdeeds. The future of journalism is already here and I believe it is crucial for my students to be involved in shaping it.


Retha Hill

Professor, Executive Director of New Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship Lab, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism

Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,414 other subscribers

Archive By Month

Blog Tags

Distance Education (318)Student Success (297)Online Learning (230)Managing Digital Learning (221)State Authorization (217)WCET (212)U.S. Department of Education (207)Regulation (199)Technology (169)Digital Learning (150)Innovation (125)Teaching (121)Collaboration/Community (114)WCET Annual Meeting (105)Course Design (103)Access (98)Professional Development (98)SAN (90)Faculty (88)Cost of Instruction (88)Financial Aid (84)Legislation (83)Completion (74)Assessment (69)Instructional Design (68)Open Educational Resources (66)Accreditation (65)COVID-19 (64)SARA (64)Accessibility (63)Professional Licensure (63)Credentials (62)Competency-based Education (61)Quality (61)Data and Analytics (60)Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (58)Research (58)Reciprocity (57)WOW Award (51)Outcomes (47)Workforce/Employment (46)Regular and Substantive Interaction (43)Policy (42)Higher Education Act (41)Negotiated Rulemaking (41)Virtual/Augmented Reality (37)Title IV (36)Practice (35)Academic Integrity (34)Disaster Planning/Recovery (34)Leadership (34)Artificial Intelligence (31)WCET Awards (30)Every Learner Everywhere (29)State Authorization Network (29)IPEDS (28)Adaptive/Personalized Learning (28)Reauthorization (28)Military and Veterans (27)Survey (27)Credits (26)Disabilities (25)MOOC (23)WCET Summit (23)Evaluation (22)Complaint Process (21)Retention (21)Enrollment (21)Correspondence Course (18)Physical Presence (17)WICHE (17)Cybersecurity (16)Products and Services (16)Forprofit Universities (15)Member-Only (15)WCET Webcast (15)Blended/Hybrid Learning (14)System/Consortia (14)Digital Divide (14)NCOER (14)Textbooks (14)Mobile Learning (13)Consortia (13)Personalized Learning (12)Futures (11)Marketing (11)Privacy (11)STEM (11)Prior Learning Assessment (10)Courseware (10)Teacher Prep (10)Social Media (9)LMS (9)Rankings (9)Standards (8)Student Authentication (8)Partnership (8)Tuition and Fees (7)Readiness and Developmental Courses (7)What's Next (7)International Students (6)K-12 (6)Lab Courses (6)Nursing (6)Remote Learning (6)Testing (6)Graduation (6)Proctoring (5)Closer Conversation (5)ROI (5)DETA (5)Game-based/Gamification (5)Dual Enrollment (4)Outsourcing (4)Coding (4)Security (4)Higher Education Trends (4)Mental Health (4)Fall and Beyond Series (3)In a Time of Crisis (3)Net Neutrality (3)Universal Design for Learning (3)Cheating Syndicates Series (3)ChatGPT (3)Enrollment Shift (3)Nontraditional Learners (2)Student Identity Verification (2)Cross Skilling/Reskilling (2)Virtual Summit (2)Higher Education (2)Title IX (1)Business of Higher Education (1)OPMs (1)Department of Education (1)Third-Party Servicers (1)microcredentials (1)Minority Serving Institution (1)Community College (1)