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Best practices to shape AI, journalism union


by John Bowen, MJE

Fifteen years ago Feb. 1, 2009, copyright education centered on online term papers.

Back then, USA Today reported, as did SPRC’s blog, about a court case against a company accused selling term papers online without proving content ownership. A US district judge in Illinois ordered the owner of the web-based company to stop selling term papers unless he has permission from the paper’s authors.

News about copyright to date in 2024 hasn’t dealt with term papers, but with “Steamboat Willie” and the original images of Mickey Mouse, freed from copyright limitations. There are, though, limitations that keep Disney in charge of most of copyright control on its work and characters. According to Disney spokespeople, the “More modern” Mickey and characters will remain protected from the public domain.

And, it’s clear, if we don’t pay attention, more lasting copyright issues could zip by without much notice.

Both journalism, with all its ability to report issues involving truth and integrity, and copyright, designed with protecting ownership and content for 95 years, find themselves behind in the race to document reality.

Copyright, now and in the near future, will increasingly deal with truth versus deception through use of AI. Journalists must strengthen AI so its use clearly exhibits truth, information and source integrity, credibility and context.

For example, Sports Illustrated recently published articles in which images, complete with and text were provided by AI, according to tech news site Futurism. Online product reviews under the names of fake authors, complete with the “’author’s” images and text generated by AI, were removed after going public. Futurism also reported removal of news stories by other sites.

One of the challenged authors, Drew, had included with his background and qualifications, “Drew has spent much of his life outdoors, and is excited to guide you through his never-ending list of the best products to keep you from falling to the perils of nature,” it read. “Nowadays, there is rarely a weekend that goes by where Drew isn’t out camping, hiking or just back on his parents’ farm.”

A neat trick If “Drew” was not human.

For the full Futurism story, go here.

Tracy Anne Sena, retired journalism teacher and adviser who recommends societal news events and issues like these as story ideas for high school journalists, raised ethics questions in the SI/AI situation:
•”What are the ethical implications of publishing reviews written by AI?
•”Would the same issues exist if there was full disclosure about the authorship?
• “Is it okay for reviewers to publish under pseudonyms?
• “How might the discovery made by Futurism affect the public’s perception of Sports Illustrated as a trusted publication?”  

After the pieces became public, the challenged pictures and information disappeared, Futurism reported it found similar instances of false stories on other news sites.

On a sunny day, people come, sit in the chairs  or stand in the area, and just relax, watch the images or talk to friends. Photo by John Bowen.
On a sunny day, people come, sit in the chairs or stand in the area, and just relax, watch the images or talk to friends. Photo by John Bowen.

The New York Times reported November, 2023, “If true, these practices violate everything we believe in about journalism,” the union representing Sports Illustrated journalists said in a statement after the report was published. “We deplore being associated with something so disrespectful to our readers.”

Journalism advisers recently responded to a question about contest submissions and other aspects of students using AI.

Concern among commercial journalists emphasizes reality over false facts and how journalists need to use AI to build trust in news media.

It’s time for student journalists, their advisers and teachers, to join other journalists who seek, discuss and shape future best practices when journalism is valued more fully with it or its successors.

Journalists – and communities –should expect AI’s value to parallel the value of accurate and trustworthy content, as reliable as student-decided content, which as crucial as contextual, ethical content.

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