Former Google Exec Warns: AI Threatens Journalism

Former Google Exec Warns: AI Threatens Journalism

According to Jim Albrecht, a former Google news executive, artificial intelligence models like ChatGPT will transform journalism by enabling readers to engage with stories and have real-time discussions about them. These models could lead to a change in focus away from traditional news sources.

New technology has never been taken well by the news publication industry, be it the internet, radio, television, or even generative artificial intelligence. Newspapers, after all, have a long-standing monopoly on disseminating information, and every advancement reduces the exclusivity of that privilege.

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Former Google Exec Speaks

Jim Albrecht served as Google’s senior director of news ecosystem products from 2017 to 2023.

According to him, the news industry’s problem has also been his. For seven years, he ran a team at Google that focused on making the web ecosystem more hospitable to news publishers. During that time, they built products to make producing expensive journalism more affordable.

They did this, however, by providing them with state-of-the-art AI technologies for document analysis and transcription, facilitating subscription purchases, and enabling publishers to present their editorial stances and reach their target audiences more successfully. These items, in addition, brought publishers billions of dollars worth of value worldwide.

They, however, did not change the reality that the internet has destroyed the value of daily newspapers.

Years ago, one needed to look at the newspaper for stock quotes, movie showtimes, sports scores, garage sale locations, and upcoming concerts. The internet allows us to locate these with ease. Thus, instead of having twenty reasons to purchase a newspaper, consumers only had one: news. The labor-intensive, costly process of gathering and producing news is what makes newsworthy content for advertising.

Restoring the pride of newspapers

Jim continued by saying that news publishers started looking to regulators and lawmakers to restore their past dominance and, at least, their financial success. This demand started in Europe and then spread to other parts of the world. Additionally, he had to ascertain how Google would respond to these demands.

Significantly, the publishers’ objections were based on the idea that websites like Google and Facebook were stealing their content. According to the publishers, these websites did this by publishing headlines and synopses linked to their stories or by enabling publishers to upload such content.

This was always, however, a ridiculous complaint because, according to an internet universal truth, traffic is what everyone wants! These publishers spend so much time and money placing their content and links on those platforms.

In addition, they hire social media managers and search engine optimization firms to get more links to appear higher on the page. According to Jim, one publisher team accused them of stealing from them by posting their results on Washington’s website. Another team, in contrast, expressed how crucial it was to them that their results were featured in the Washington Post more frequently and prominently. He said that this created a confusing situation for them.

Large language models

Large language models (LLMs) have come so close to replicating human-level composition since this spectacle occurred. Subsequently, LLM-based features appeared and functioned in various applications, including grammar checking and autocomplete.

Jim likened watching publishers argue about search result payments to watching LLMs move quietly and frantically. People, however, argue over flower arrangements at an outside wedding while the biggest rain cloud you can imagine approaches silently.

Subsequently, ChatGPT emerged, bringing everything into sharp focus. Jim added that platforms posting links to news items have never been a problem; that’s what they should do. According to him, the issue is that modern technology has made it possible for them to publish news without even including links to news websites; instead, they can simply take the news, have a robot rewrite it, and include it in their products.

Jim Albrecht’s warning

According to Jim, a similarly ridiculous offer from the IT sector would soon overshadow the ridiculous demand of news publishers.

“Send me traffic and then pay me for having done so!” It said, “How about we build a product on your content and send you little or no traffic in return?”

These two irrationalities cannot endure in the long run. Due to their economic ridiculousness, they will perish or find themselves in the sights of lawmakers, judges, or regulatory bodies.

Having seen how regulators handled those propositions, Jim said he’s bracing himself for how they’ll handle the second. In addition, he said the stakes couldn’t be higher. On one side of the conflict, there is existential risk for the publishing industry, and on the other, there is existential risk for technological innovation.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.