Inter-Union Town Hall on Artificial Intelligence

Dozens of members of NWU, WGAE, NewsGuild and NABET got together on Zoom in early February for a virtual town hall about AI in the newsroom. NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss opened the call by giving a brief overview of how ChatGPT works, followed by a quick demonstration of what that AI chatbot might spit out when given various quick-hit prompts like Write an article about the NBC News Guild workers walking out and Compose a picket line chant. The purpose of this demonstration was to underscore that while ChatGPT is a robust and efficient tool, it is still just a tool: the resulting articles, though quickly drafted and readable, were nevertheless warmed-over facsimiles of pre-existing reporting, filled with made-up placeholder quotes and factual inaccuracies. 

Following this demonstration, a Gizmodo writer gave a more substantive overview of what AI chatbots like ChatGPT and DALL-E are and how they transform the data they’ve been trained on to spit out “new” content, then highlighted how the technology, in its current form, stands in opposition to the tenets of ethical journalism—a fact which staff unions both can and should bring up with management whenever AI eventually shows up in their newsroom. A contracts expert from NewsGuild then opened a discussion about how contract bargaining teams might go about incorporating AI in their negotiations, both from an ethical journalism and a labor protection standpoint. She then walked everyone through sample language—some of which had been initially drafted by ChatGPT!—that bargaining teams could start with next time they’re at the bargaining table. 

The floor was then opened for general discussion. The use of AI as a tool to make certain aspects of reporting and drafting more efficient was a favorite topic, with some members suggesting using ChatGPT, etc., to generate FOIA requests or to search for trends and patterns in particularly large sheaves of data. NWU-FSP members noted how any contractual wins staff unions achieve in regards to the “ethical journalism” aspect of AI in the newsroom will automatically redound to freelancers. Copyright and IP (and AI’s inability to claim either) were also discussed.

The full recording of the town hall will be available to members of all four unions later this week. Additionally, a cross-union AI working group will be convening in coming months to work on this topic further. Contact Larry for more information about both.