Google’s Journalism Tools Are Bad

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the organization that single-handedly killed journalism is making tools that will bury it even deeper.

Google has been talking about generative AI tools for the newsroom for months, most recently crowing about tools that it would give to newsrooms in order to streamline their process.

It turns out that journalists are so against these tools that Google is paying publishers to try them and, obviously, the results are awful. According to AdWeek, the companies are getting “five figures” to try the tech and these payments will eventually dwindle to nothing.

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According to Alex Katrowitz, it sounds like the whole thing produces bottom of the barrel junk:

A journalist first selects a ‘seed’ source like a city council, parks department, local school, etc. they plan to cover. With a link from that single source — whether that’s a press release, 500 page report, or even a tweet — Google’s generative AI software produces a first draft of the story, complete with a lede, nut graf, quotes, and the rest. (The vision is to eventually allow for multiple input sources.) The idea is that a journalist can add to that draft with reporting and fact checking and eventually publish a full story. 

Clearly, investigative journalists are not going to use this tool. Or at least, not very often. Google’s intending it for simple write-ups. “The idea is to make this a daily habit,” said the person within Google. “We’re focused on service journalism, we’re focused on very particular types of journalism, at the moment.”

Using AI for this kind of content is a no-brainer but, as we’ve said before, the skills needed to write a first draft are vital to becoming a journalist who can then end edit AI-generated dreck. If you’re a particularly lazy journalist or SEO lover you can definitely use Google’s tool to make your life much easier (heck, you can even use the tool that I made specifically for this purpose, Sublimwire) but if you want to become a journalist, using this is akin to adding a motor to your training bike – you’ll go fast, but you’ll never win the Tour de France.

The worst thing is that this use case is obvious. Google has PhDs galore, the resources of Croesus, and enough compute power to resurrect Edward R. Murrow from the grave. The product they lead with? A press release rewriter.

I’m salty about this for a few reasons but primarily because journalists should be doing this themselves, already. But jamming Google into the newsroom they are adding a layer of complexity and FUD to the process that will eventually make the average journalist beholden to Google. These tools are easy to use already. You don’t need Clippy for Beat Journal to get things done.

But this is how these things work: media bosses fear the unknown, they try something that seems to work, and they accept it without considering the implications. Pivot to video, Snapchat stories, Quibi – all this junk that sounds good is what eventually kills the media outlet. It’s regular as clockwork and it needs to stop.

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