One potential benefit of utilizing artificial intelligence in the field of investigative journalism is its ability to enhance and improve the practice.
The New York Times utilized modern technology to strengthen their findings while reporting on Israel’s attack on Gaza.
The journalists of the paper utilized artificial intelligence to monitor satellite images revealing over 200 craters in heavily populated civilian locations, believed to be the result of 907-kilogram (2,000-pound) bombs.
The implementation of AI by The Times demonstrates the potential for the technology to aid media outlets in efficiently and precisely handling vast amounts of data. According to certain experts, this could also pave the way for smaller newsrooms to engage in investigative journalism.
According to Jared Schroeder, an expert in emerging technology and a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, a large team of journalists would have needed significant time to analyze and separate that extensive amount of satellite data.
According to Schroeder, the story would be nearly impossible to tell without the use of AI. It would be extremely challenging for humans to accurately count bomb craters from satellite images. Therefore, AI makes it possible to create such a report.
Investigative journalism is a costly enterprise at a time when the industry is in financial decline. The use of AI offers a cost-effective way to aid investigative reporting. And while technology has long been used to aid journalism, the arrival of Open AI’s ChatGPT has renewed focus on the possibilities that AI offers.
According to Jonathan Soma, a data journalism professor at Columbia University, similar projects have been carried out for many years. In 2018, there was a notable project from Ukraine that demonstrated the effective use of machine learning and AI in analyzing vast quantities of satellite data.
The inquiry discovered that numerous Ukrainians were engaging in illegal mining activities, resulting in the extraction of amber worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“According to Soma, this was extremely complex and required a multi-session course to learn all the technical components. However, now I am able to teach individuals how to do it in just 10 or 15 minutes. Soma believes that this simplicity has completely changed the game.”
One of the most well-known examples of AI aiding investigative journalism was the 2016 Panama Papers case, in which journalists sifted through 2.6 terabytes of leaked data.
According to LiveScience, the leak would amount to 650 million pages, as reported by the science news website.
According to Ryan Heath, a global technology correspondent for the news website Axios, the Panama Papers were exposed using an AI method known as a vector database.
Using AI as a resource, news outlets and journalists were able to effectively manage and analyze the data from the Panama Papers, revealing the existence of offshore accounts and tax havens used by some of the wealthiest individuals in the world to evade taxes, engage in fraudulent activity, and bypass government regulations.
According to Heath, AI enabled those involved in the investigation to uncover information that would be impossible for a single individual to connect. With numerous shell companies operating in various locations and constantly changing their structures, it would be a daunting task for one person to stay updated.
One significant factor is the possibility of advanced AI serving as a leveler for smaller news outlets.
According to media experts interviewed by VOA, conducting thorough investigative journalism was too expensive and time-consuming for many news organizations until recently.
David Caswell, an individual who has experience in both journalism and technology, including positions at the BBC and Yahoo, stated that there is a swift evolution occurring.
Caswell, an expert in AI, is currently employed at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford, England. In this role, they train leaders in newsrooms on incorporating AI into their outlets.
According to Caswell, the use of AI in data journalism will have a wider reach and make data journalism more accessible to smaller newspapers and rural areas, allowing them to engage in data journalism for the first time.
“According to him, what holds greater significance is the ability to analyze numerous unstructured text documents as a whole.”
Caswell mentioned an instance where large language models can sift through numerous police reports that were previously unusable as data.
Despite the progress made, experts like Soma argue that technology can never substitute for journalists.
Soma believes that the foundation of good journalism lies in practicing journalism itself, such as conducting interviews and engaging with individuals. This includes having the ability to determine which stories are worth pursuing. While AI may add some extra enhancements, it is not necessary for traditional journalism skills to be effective.
Although there have been concerns among media experts about the potential negative impact of AI on the credibility of journalism, the general consensus is that it will not completely replace reporters. Instead, it can assist in strengthening their role as guardians of the public.