New York Times Deputy Standards Editor Mike Abrams, who served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Collegian in 1993-94, talked about the potential and the pitfalls of artificial intelligence (AI) in journalism with two dozen Collegian students and alumni in a Zoom roundtable hosted by current editor-in-chief Nick Stonesifer.

Abrams is one of 10 editors on the Times Standards Team who work to ensure fairness, as well as proper tone and framing, before the Times publishes and who also work to repair problems if they aren’t caught before publication. The goal is to ensure the Times maintains trustworthiness.

Abrams, who joined The Times in 2004 and previously served as director of journalism practices and principles, noted that AI has potential positive uses, for example, reading Times stories, which is helpful for people with vision problems. But before the Times uses AI to read, Abrams’ team is discussing how the Times informs readers that it is AI doing the reading and how AI-read stories will be reviewed before issued.

He noted that AI can be used to analyze statistics, photos and other information, but humans should check the results.

In the roundtable sponsored by Collegian Alumni Interest Group, Stonesifer asked Abrams about the challenges AI presents to journalists.

Abrams said Sports Illustrated is a good example of what not to do. He said stories and illustrations should not be created by AI and then published as if humans had created them – including fake by-lines. He said, generally, don’t produce something with AI without humans involved throughout the entire process. If it is used, for example, to write headlines, then humans must be there to determine if those titles are any good.

He recommended that reporters not put their notes online where AI can scoop them up. And he said that the Times is in the middle of a lawsuit about AI scraping Times stories without Times permission and without any sort of payment to the Times.

Abrams told the students that his first semester roommate persuaded him to work at The Collegian, and by the end of that semester, he had changed his major to journalism. In addition to teaching him how to be a journalist, work at The Collegian, Abrams said, gave him a great group of friends.

“Finding things out and telling others about it – that is pretty cool. To get paid to do that, it is hard to beat that,” he said.

Barbara Stack

I started my journalism career at The Daily Collegian, where I covered cops, "radicals and minorities," and served as editorial page editor. After graduation, I worked as a reporter and feature writer for two community papers, The Tribune-Review and the Beaver County Times, before being hired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I worked for the Post-Gazette for 27 years as a reporter, assistant city editor and editorial page writer. For a decade I covered issues regarding children and families, and a series of stories I wrote, along with a court case I persuaded the Post-Gazette to pursue, led to an order opening to the press and public dependency hearings in Pennsylvania juvenile court. In 2007, I began working as a blog writer for the United Steelworkers Union, composing blogs and op-eds that were published in the name of the union's international president. I am now retired and working as a consultant for The Pittsburgh Foundation's communications department.