In the age of ChatGPT, how do we rebuild faith in the media?

Even as the digital space assumes primacy, the revival of an age-old business model could become vital again

Palestinian Talal Taha reads a newspaper at his house in Gaza, on January 5, 2023. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Think for a moment about how we consume information, how we read the news, through what medium and on which platforms. Now think of how all that might change in time. In five or 10 years, how will we read the news? Will we trust news sources to a greater or lesser degree? We know that the world around us changes rapidly and the online world, only more so. In this context, it is useful to bear in mind that Mark Zuckerberg announced the Metaverse less than two years ago; TikTok is coming up to its seventh birthday this year; and Twitter is 16 years old.

The transformation from traditional sources to the digital space has changed our relationship with news, as has the access to news around the clock. Citizen journalism and a distribution of power (of sorts) to new voices and influencers has also opened up platforms and ways of consuming news. Some people have called this the democratisation of news. But such changes have also introduced the perils of fake news, disinformation and online hate, all amplified by algorithms and news feeds. The result can be that we inhabit almost parallel universes, rarely encountering different perspectives, or news that doesn’t adhere to our world views.

Now add to that AI-generated news. Studies show that it can be hard to differentiate human-written news from AI-generated news. And these tools are becoming ever more sophisticated. For instance, as of late, a lot of people are talking about ChatGPT and it is great fun to try out. I asked it to write a paragraph in my style. And I am going to leave you wondering if it was ChatGPT or me that wrote this. An article published this past week in the scientific journal Nature found that ChatGPT has created studies in scientific literature that are so convincing that they are already being cited.

This then becomes a pivotal moment: will journalism and news coverage become more or less valued by society? The answer is that great news coverage and great journalism play a vital role in society and should have greater stature than it does now. But without careful safeguarding, that stature could erode.

Good journalism, as we know, must be rooted in trust, transparency and credibility. As consumers of news we learn how this is a two-way relationship, where news outlets elevate credible trustworthy voices that uphold the highest standards and build a loyal readership or an audience.

We can see this happening before our eyes in societal measures of trust. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer was released this week. The UK, for example, remains one of the countries to have the lowest faith in the media. But what is notable is that trust in the media is slowly rising. The study conducted in November 2022 suggests that this trust has risen by two points compared to 2021. But it still remains low at 37 per cent. While shared reliable trusted information about the state of society is vital to its functioning, perhaps some healthy scepticism in what is offered to us is not a bad thing. Nor is accessing a wide variety of news sources and assessing the merit.

If there is a key thing missing from consumers of news, it is media literacy and how to engage in a two-way process with news outlets. By this I mean that news publishers and journalists need to have brands and names they can trust, so that the readers or consumers can then trust a news platform. That trust is built on transparency, accountability, credibility and dialogue with their consumers, whether they be readers or listeners.

I use the term “listeners” because podcasts are now increasingly a central part of news output and consumption. In fact, I’m putting my own name to a news podcast just this week in The Shelina Show, precisely to try to inject a more nuanced, in-depth and considered view of the news headlines and the topics that affect all of us, so we can join the dots and see a bigger picture.

In the future, we may well see an increasing return to local and regional news brands, those whose credentials and the credentials of their journalists determine their popularity, their news output and build a two-way relationship with news consumers. That will be both powerful and welcome for news producers and news consumers, especially after the past years of difficult, teething problems of the transition to a changed new digital news economy. It is my optimistic view.

Oh, and in case you had a niggling doubt about whether this is a human-written piece or one generated by AI, you can rest assured that it is written by my own fair hand. Or is it?

Published: January 23, 2023, 7:00 AM