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December 11, 2023updated 12 Dec 2023 3:30pm

How NCTJ plans to tackle AI ‘shockwaves’ through industry

Employers tell NCTJ they are both intrigued and worried about potential of AI.

By Joanne Forbes

Everyone associated with the NCTJ knows that in an industry undergoing rapid and irreversible change, it must perform a leadership role in clarifying and teaching journalism based on contemporary journalism standards.

That’s why we’re putting so much emphasis on raising awareness of the power of artificial intelligence and how it can help journalists.

Artificial intelligence is the technology transforming newsrooms and the ways journalists do their jobs.

It’s heralding a new era of technological change for journalism – following the move online and onto mobile, and the arrival of social media and the impact all this has had on content creation, news and information consumption and competition.

Over the last decade and more, technology companies have turned their attention to creating digital tools that increase efficiency, solve problems and assist humans in their everyday lives.

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From auto-correct, spell check and Grammarly to Siri, Otter and Google Translate, the use of these programmes has become commonplace in the workplace – and newsrooms are no exception.

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For years, journalists have harnessed these tools to make sense of large datasets, aid the editing process, fact-check sources and more.

However, the launch of the generative AI bot ChatGPT has sent shockwaves through the industry and beyond.

It’s difficult not to be in awe of the remarkably humanlike text ChatGPT can produce within seconds, crafting hundreds of words of flowing copy in the blink of an eye. It raises so many questions.

How well does it work? What are the implications? And how will it change the role of a journalist?

‘Exciting’ to be part of AI ‘revolution’ for news

No-one can say they have all the answers. Here at the NCTJ, we are facilitating discussions, raising awareness and supporting journalists and educators as the technology and the industry evolve.

It’s exciting to be part of this revolution and we want to harness the benefits of AI. We also need some caution and consideration to ensure our journalism is enhanced and not undermined.

AI is the hot topic in our research programme. In a recent survey of employers, we discovered that most are intrigued about AI and think it will be used a lot more within the next two years. They are developing AI strategies and their understanding of how AI can be used to assist with their journalism. They think it has the potential to empower journalists and to support them in their roles. AI can change and improve workflows for the better.

Employers are also worried about its use if it is unchecked, its misuse, and the potential for an erosion of journalistic skills and the risk of reputational damage. Very few news operations employ AI specialists and think their journalists lack an understanding of how AI tools can be used to enhance their journalism.

Developments in new technology have massive implications for journalism skills: journalists are expected to have a wider range of skills and to use technological advances to streamline and enhance their journalism.

AI poses ‘fraudster’ risk to NCTJ – but also opportunities

At the NCTJ, we’re increasing our use of AI in the delivery of our assessments and it features more prominently in our core curriculum. Trainee journalists must have an awareness of what AI is and how it impacts on their role in the newsroom and how AI tools assist with content creation. They need to be aware of the legal issues, the dangers of misinformation and the importance of verification. 

Thanks to financial support from the Google News Initiative, we are providing events and training through our Journalism Skills Academy for editors, journalists and educators. A new training resource – A journalist’s guide to AI – launched recently on our e-learning platform and provides essential information on how AI can support rather than threaten the role of a journalist. More courses and resources are in development.

At our event at Reuters this week and with input from major players including the BBC, Cardiff University, Google, National World, Newsquest and News UK, we are discussing the opportunities AI presents to journalists in the newsroom and the likely impact on skills and training.

AI is having a considerable impact on the NCTJ as a charity and we are tackling our own challenges. The potential for generative AI to be used by fraudsters to undermine the integrity of our qualifications is a very real risk and one which the NCTJ and our partners are acting on.

More positively, AI presents huge opportunities for our awarding organisation, including developing new products to assess AI skills in journalism and using AI tools to set assessment questions, to monitor online exams and to spot cheating through facial recognition and the tracking of eye movements.

We pioneered the use of AI tools in 2020 to monitor the remote delivery of our online exams, through the use of invigilation software called Proctorio. We started using this software in response to the pandemic so that learners could complete their qualifications, and we continue to successfully deliver remote exams in this way. With guidance from Cirrus, our online assessment partner, we are exploring the potential use of AI in marking.

Ofqual, our regulator in England, has taken a cautious approach to AI. It’s perhaps understandable that as a regulator their focus has been on ensuring fairness, maintaining validity, protecting security and preserving public confidence in qualifications. Enabling innovation is lower down the list of priorities so it’s no surprise that in a recent poll, less than ten per cent of awarding organisation managers admitted that they were actively using AI in their awarding activities. The chief regulator assured the education sector recently that Ofqual remains committed to ‘pen and paper’ exams and AI cannot and will not replace humans to mark students’ work.

‘Embracing verified AI tools is the way forward’

Our view is that being change and risk-averse should not stifle innovation and come at the expense of harnessing the many opportunities that AI offers. We have shown that embracing verified AI tools is the way forward if we are to remain current and fit for purpose.

We also know that AI can’t replace the human skills journalists have always relied on – making personal connections, listening and empathising with others and understanding the bigger picture.

And no matter what, the NCTJ will continue to champion those values, doing what’s needed to support quality, trusted journalism in the present and future.

Speaking at our diversity conference at the BBC two weeks ago, Karyn Fleeting, who is playing a lead role in pioneering the use of AI at Reach, suggested we view it as a journalist’s ‘co-pilot’. AI is supporting journalists rather than replacing them.

I think it’s poignant that we’re concluding this week’s AI event with a special address from our patron, Alex Crawford, who we think embodies the values of journalism that should continue to command our respect, admiration and aspiration.

We are proud that Alex is our standard-bearer for quality, trusted journalism and diversity. Who better to champion our cause and to remind us all of the vital work journalists do in our local, national and international communities? Journalists are under threat, sacrificing and risking their lives every day and we need to promote the value of their work and support and protect them.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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