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Embracing the robot overlords: Charlie Beckett on the power of being human 

It didn’t take long for the (AI) penny to drop. In a world where generative AI is beginning to march into newsrooms, it seems the silver sixpence which publishers have woken up to is the necessity of emphasising human identity and the power of human reporting.

We’ve got personalities. We can take a position on an issue. We’ve got empathy. We can work with communities. We can listen to communities. We can witness what is happening. Machines cannot do that,” stresses Charlie Becket, director of JournalismAI, an initiative by the London School of Economics’ Polis think-tank.

In an interview with Mx3, Beckett heralds a new era in which he would “welcome our robot overlords” because they would enable “jet-pack journalists”. In this era, journalists “will do less boring crap”, in Becket’s words, “because the robots will do it for them.” But, here’s the rub: in a world of AI, the human journalist becomes a truly unique offering. 

Beckett’s observations come at a time when staff on The New York Times received an email alerting them to the rolling out of new reporter bios. Each reporter had to – urgently – submit an author page for themselves. Media writer at Vanity Fair, Charlotte Klein, quotes the email which states: “…it’s especially important to highlight the human aspect of our work as misinformation and generative AI proliferates.”

The move to ‘literally’ put a face and a name to reporting is to foster greater trust with readers and as more and more news is written/generated by generative AI, a way to emphasise the leading newspaper’s unique selling point: its human-led reporting.

But, as Becket is quick to point out, it’s not that journalists and machines need not square up to each other. They can, and should, make good allies. He is surprised that so many newsrooms consider AI to be a no-no, or ‘the enemy’.

Meet Charlie Beckett at Mx3 AI in London on Thursday, 7 December, where he will be one of our speakers. Read more here and sign up at

He considers the ability to harvest the powers of AI as an arms race. “This is the reality. If you talk to the retail industry or the security industry, if you talk to pharmaceuticals, they’re not saying: ‘Should we be using AI?’ …they’re investing billions in it… not to lose out on competition.”

Journalism in a museum? 

So why should journalists think they are the exception to the rule, and steer clear of AI.  “Is journalism protected by barbed wire? Do you want to put it in a museum?” he quips, referencing several instances where AI not only opened up new opportunities but did so when human editors entered into a collaboration with AI. One example is Swedish Radio, embracing AI by developing an algorithm to manage the running order of news stories on regional radio stations.

Human editors started to assign three values to each story in accordance with: What they thought would be the magnitude of the story; the degree of public service value; and the projected life span of the story. Once these parameters are set, AI attributes a digital score to each story. This score determines the story’s position relative to all others in the live news listings, the news playlists in their apps, and their news websites.

This is a classic example, says Beckett, of how an experienced team of journalists who are subject matter experts, can align technology with their values, without compromise.

Read the Swedish Radio case study here –