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Journobots: where are we going to fit in the future?


A media student and I were talking about artificial intelligence, on thinking out of the box, and talking computers.

He was showing me one of his bot projects.

A bot is a software application designed to automate certain tasks.

Suddenly, the Google Assistant on my mobile got into the conversation — without invitation. This is frightening.

Imagine your mobile phone registering your voice, your conversation, even your thoughts and one day, unexpectedly, it spills the beans.

Well, this is just a tip of the future of the media and consequently, the future of journalism.

Facial recognition, voice recognition, and personality recognition are developing trends.

We are talking to machines; machines are talking to each other.

Conversational computing is changing the way humans and systems interact.

The media ecosystem is going through massive changes and we do have to rethink journalism education, as well as where a journalist would fit in the future, and how — if at all — news organisations are paying attention to new information consumption habits.

After decades of the Internet, there are news executives still battling to fully integrate it into their organisations.

Shabby websites and trivial social media content are just façades. We need quality, substance. In other words, we have

to provide meaningful information to target audiences.

Relevant and personalised content will replace the generalised material news organisations are providing. It is time to move forward.

By saving quality reporting, it will save our jobs; robotic journalists are already a reality, but these machines need human inputs; therefore, skilled journalists are important and essential to double check results and interpret the inputs. More, robotic reporting can increase quantity but not quality.

Trusted journalists are still vital to understand and write down powerful stories because narratives are difficult to programme.

With the growth of news in social media, it has become harder to separate fact from fiction.

One of the reasons is the role of content algorithmic biases that helps to spread quickly low quality content and fake news. The Internet has exposed citizens to a vast range of viewpoints.

Now, facts, alternative — facts and counter-facts sit side-by-side online in a way that is confusing to audiences.

A distrust in the media is a serious issue. Meaning, trust, fact-checking, and transparency have assumed important role — more

than ever.

That is when quality reporting will not only save our jobs from robot journalists but also — hopefully — rebuild the trust on journalism.

‘The Future of Journalism and its Challenges’ was one of the topics presented at a symposium Sultan Qaboos University organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, as part of the consultations to elaborate on Oman Vision 2040 — which looks into the future of journalism and other issues relevant to the country’s development.

We are living in a rapidly moving and complex world.

Any resistance to changes will only delay progress.

Technology is changing education, government, politics, economy and the media. Technology can lower costs and to some degree replace humans — mainly due to limited knowledge and the lack of technical skills.

We can no longer wait and see what is going to happen.

Strategies on how we will fit into the technological future is not just an option, it is a responsibility.

Today’s children will be the young adults of 2040 — and they are already technologically savvy kids.

So, from where should we start? Well, get familiar with the new consumption habits; not everybody needs the same generalised information; understand your audiences through analytics, surveys and find out their interests; make your organisation’s website services accessible to all, including for people with disabilities — add Braille signs and voice service that can read news content loud (preferable jumping adds).

Journalism is a public service but it is also a business.

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