March 25, 2024

Every single newsroom needs to adopt an ethics policy to guide the use of generative artificial intelligence. Why? Because the only way to create ethical standards in an unlicensed profession is to do it shop by shop.

Until we create those standards 鈥 even though it鈥檚 early in the game 鈥 we are holding back innovation.

So here鈥檚 a created by 91福利鈥檚 Alex Mahadevan, Tony Elkins and me. It鈥檚 a statement of journalism values that roots AI experimentation in the principles of accuracy, transparency and audience trust, followed by a set of specific guidelines.

Think of it like a meal prep kit. Most of the work is done, but you still have to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of labor. This policy includes blank spaces, where newsroom leaders will have to add details, saying 鈥測es鈥 or 鈥渘o鈥 to very specific activities, like using AI-generated illustrations.

In order to effectively use this AI ethics policy, newsrooms will need to create an AI committee and designate an editor or senior journalist to lead the ongoing effort. This step is critical because the technology is going to evolve, the tools are going to multiply and the policy will not keep up unless it is routinely revised.

This leader, with support from this committee, can also be responsible for newsroomwide communication and inspiration around AI experiments. Here are a couple of highlights from this ethics policy template:

  • Form an AI committee and designate a leader.
  • Make sure the committee includes people from every department, including the business side.
  • The committee should separate decisions into three categories: audience-facing uses, business uses and back-end reporting assistance.
    • Audience-facing: While we don鈥檛 discourage audience-facing use, it poses the highest risk for reputational damage. AI tools used to create text should ideally be trained on your newsroom鈥檚 content and knowledge base. For example, if you want to use AI to create a newsletter, use a custom GPT that is limited to your own editorial and social media content. Transparency and human oversight are key requirements.
    • Business uses: Different standards may evolve for noneditorial uses. But when it comes to the creation of content, the values of accuracy and transparency will influence audience trust, regardless of whether it originates as news.
    • Back-end reporting assistance: Encourage experimentation that alleviates tedious work and elevates the quality of the journalism.
  • Partnerships with technology companies and nonprofit organizations are a great opportunity to get funding, explore tools and expand your capacity. Such partnerships will require editorial transparency so that the relationships are disclosed when partners are the subject of news coverage.

The best ethical standards in journalism have always encouraged pushing forward, getting the information out and finding the best way to serve the public. It鈥檚 time for every newsroom to apply that approach to artificial intelligence.

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Kelly McBride is a journalist, consultant and one of the country鈥檚 leading voices on media ethics and democracy. She is senior vice president and chair…
Kelly McBride

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