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  • Jacob Koehler

Will AI Take Down the Sports Journalism Industry?

With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence into modern society, many people’s first concern was if their jobs would be safe. One industry that immediately came to mind when this technology was released is journalism. A career centered around writing seemed a likely candidate to be phased out by AI. With recent news, there is reason to fear that may become a reality. Should it be a real concern that AI will replace humans in the sports journalism field?

One of the most popular forms of AI are the language models, such as ChatGPT. This technology is able to complete countless tasks in the form of writing. For many professions, it can be an extremely helpful tool in the workplace. AI can be used to generate original content in just seconds, and is free to use. It can save employers’ money and employees’ time. With writing being the specialty of ChatGPT, it is clear why writers are concerned with the security of their livelihood.

Recently, an article from Futurism claims that Sports Illustrated published articles under AI-generated writers. According to the article, stories were found that had been published under names that did not belong to existing writers. The supposed articles have been taken down since. This controversy stirred up a panic in the industry. If one of the leading sports publications allegedly has experimented with AI sports writers, how long until real writers are phased out?

As a sports journalist myself, I have to be prepared to defend why I am essential to the industry when AI is available. The short answer is that AI cannot replicate the personal touch that a good sports writer provides. It is also not capable of forming its own opinions, giving personal insight, or having a strong voice. While AI may suffice for blog posts that are simply there to boost the algorithm, it is not a replacement for well-researched, entertaining articles written by professionals.

AI also faces a handful of other limitations that keep it from replacing a sports journalist. Language models are only capable of responding to prompts given to it by the user. They are also not up to date with current information. I asked ChatGPT to write an article about the recent struggles of the New England Patriots this season, it replied “As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, I do not have the most recent information on the state of the New England Patriots football team.”

Replacing sports journalists with AI is comparable to replacing a coach with advanced analytics, or a referee/umpire with automotive technology. We could eliminate controversial calls, poor decisions, and articles that people disagree with. The results would be repetitive, cookie cutter, and input-output based. It would be a step towards taking the human mind out of sports. Interaction is what makes sports so entertaining, and we would be losing that.

While I firmly believe AI can never replace the job of a sports journalist, I do think it is here to stay as part of the industry. It needs to be used as what it was meant to be, a useful instrument to improve the sports journalism field. For example, I just asked ChatGPT to come up with another way of phrasing “helpful tool” as I had used that earlier in the article, and it gave me “useful instrument.” No one would have been able to tell that I used AI to assist me there, but everyone would have known if this article was written by it. If used correctly and ethically, AI can be great for editorial support, sparking ideas, and suggestions.

The report of AI being used by a large sports publication can be frightening. For a moment it seemed that our fears were coming to fruition. However, the response has been reassuring. The use of AI writers was caught, called out, and faced backlash quickly. People want to read the work and interact with other people, not AI. It may be satisfactory in other professions where the writing is meant to sound robotic, but the sports world relies on personal connection. This incident underscores that AI is not a capable replacement in a field driven by the passion and engagement of human interaction. I can put to rest the idea that AI will take my job, for now.

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