From Tom Jones | Poynter <[email protected]>
Subject AI butchered a former NBA player’s obit. Could it still have a use?
Date September 15, 2023 11:30 AM
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Those who have lost someone often face a thick fog of grief and a heavy load of end-of-life arrangements. AI could help them draft a basic obit. Email not displaying correctly?
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** AI butchered a former NBA player’s obit. Could it still have a use?

Former NBA player Brandon Hunter's death at just 42 ([link removed]) should be news on its own. But thanks to a horrid artificial intelligence-generated obituary, that’s what we’re talking about instead.

According to Futurism ([link removed]) , “Microsoft's MSN news portal published a garbled, seemingly AI-generated article ([link removed]) that derided Hunter as ‘useless’ in its headline.”

There’s another tick in the “down with AI” box. But, as an obit writer for the Tampa Bay Times ([link removed]) , which Poynter owns, I do wonder if there isn’t a real space for this technology in a different kind of obituary — the one that the family writes through the funeral home or for their local newspaper.

Hold on, now. Hear me out.

If you’ve ever lost someone, you might be familiar with the thick fog that comes with grief and the heavy load of end-of-life arrangements. Obituaries, the resume-listing kind, can fall into that category. Could AI take the details — birth, place, parents, family, death, accomplishments, a sliver of who a person was — and offer something similar to what we now read?

Looks like we’ll see. There are already several generative AI tools attempting this: Tribute ([link removed]) , Empathy ([link removed]) and Obituare ([link removed]) among them.

Here are my questions: Are they any good? Can they do the kind of harm MSN’s piece did? And could they help the people who want to share obits but can’t afford the high price ([link removed]) of paid newspaper obits?

I wouldn’t let a bot near the kind of reported obits that I and many ([link removed]) other ([link removed]) journalists around the country write. But if AI could help families take care of one more thing during what can be the hardest of times, well, it might not be totally useless.

By Kristen Hare, faculty

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** Harness the power of your voice

The Power of Diverse Voices is a transformative, four-day seminar that helps journalists of color find their voices and build skills for writing opinion pieces and personal essays.

With the support of expert instructors and fellow journalists of color, you’ll develop the confidence and skills to share your unique perspective in persuasive writing.

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** Danish photojournalist fabricated details in Ukraine war coverage

A photojournalist wrote the names of two Ukrainian teenagers killed in the Russian invasion on a mortar shell, loaded it into the mortar tube and watched it roar toward the opposition.

Or did he?

Acclaimed Danish photojournalist Jan Grarup ([link removed]) is at the center of a controversy over his Ukraine coverage, accused of multiple fabrications during his time covering the war as a freelancer. Leading Danish paper Politiken, where Grarup was on staff from 2003 to 2009, announced it would no longer use his Ukraine photos.

An article in Politiken reporting the cut ties ([link removed]) cited the mortar shell incident, Grarup’s announcement that “he has lost his objectivity” when it comes to Ukraine and Russia, and multiple pieces of false information in his reporting

According to the Politiken correction appended to the article in which Grarup details firing the mortar shell, the firing was actually carried out by a Ukrainian soldier. Two other moments in the report were also written as if Grarup had experienced them when he hadn’t. In another article, Grarup had said he was at a pizzeria in Kramatorsk three hours before an attack took place. The now-added correction says he was actually there the day before ([link removed]) .

Additionally, Danish weekly Weekendavisen’s Søren K. Villemoes published an article Thursday in which he spoke with Grarup’s two Ukrainian assistants ([link removed]) , who accuse him of trying to silence them in correcting the record.

Grarup said he ascribed other’s experiences to himself to protect his sources.

Politiken says the decision to stop working with Grarup only extends to his Ukraine coverage. Editor-in-chief Amalie Kestler pointed to Grarup’s status as a freelancer who sells Politken his work instead of a staff photographer under editorial supervision and didn’t rule out publishing his further work from other countries.

By Annie Aguiar, audience engagement producer

** Walter Isaacson: Still an eye for a timely news story?
Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson during the North American International Auto show, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Walter Isaacson and his new biography of Elon Musk have been all over the news cycle this week. A review ([link removed]) and two news ([link removed]) stories ([link removed]) in The New York Times. A cover story ([link removed]) in New York Magazine. A full round of morning show interviews. A live half-hour Washington Post interview ([link removed]) and another two-hour program ([link removed]) with scientist-turned-podcaster Lex Fridman.

The author made some less-than-flattering news as well, when he conceded that the book mistakenly reported that Musk had “deactivated” the Starlink satellite system at a crucial juncture in the Ukraine war. In fact, as Musk clarified, Starlink was “never activated in the first place.“

To an extent, this is a well-planned book promotion as usual for a writer who is now 20 years into what he calls his “genius” biography series. But Isaacson also seems to have an uncanny sense of news timing. A long stint editing Time and a shorter one as CEO of CNN apparently left him with a way of seeing news pegs coming in the distance, even during the long gestation period required to produce a book.

Musk probably was a good bet to be a big story anytime. However, the book was just under the wire to track the first rounds of his remaking of X, (formerly Twitter) which Musk bought last October. And Musk’s role in artificial intelligence was highlighted in a Congressional hearing Wednesday.

This isn’t the first time Isaacson has pulled off that trick. His massive biography of Steve Jobs was released the week the tech entrepreneur died in 2011.

Before Musk, Isaacson’s most recent bio was of Jennifer Doudna and the development of the CRISPR gene-editing system. That one was published in March 2021, months after she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The timing also allowed for a full account of gene editing during the peak COVID-19 year of 2020.

Maybe a good question is: Who’s next for Isaacson, and should that subject be penciled in as a newsmaker in 2025 or 2026?

By Rick Edmonds, media business analyst

** Media tidbits and links for your weekend review
* Bloomberg reports ([link removed]) that Disney has held talks about selling ABC and its TV stations to Nexstar.
* A coalition of public media organizations, including NPR, published a paper that “presents a shared vision for the role public media can play in the future of local news and provides specific action items to face the growing information crisis.” “Public Media and the Future of Local Journalism” ([link removed]) was endorsed by more than 120 leaders across public media.
* Jamilah King is headed back to Mother Jones ([link removed]) as an editorial director. She worked at the outlet for more than four years, including as host of its weekly podcast and as its race and justice reporter, before leaving to serve as BuzzFeed’s deputy inequality editor and managing editor.
* Connell McShane will join NewsNation ([link removed]) as host of the afternoon weekday program “NewsNation Now,” which airs from 3 to 5 p.m. Eastern. McShane was previously an anchor and chief national correspondent for Fox Business Network.
* Among the many stunning details in this excerpt — published by The Atlantic ([link removed]) — of McKay Coppins’ upcoming book about Mitt Romney: The senator texted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the days leading up to Jan. 6 to share concerns about chatter he was hearing about protesters storming the Capitol. McConnell never responded.
* The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin with “Cable TV Is on Life Support, but a New Bundle Is Coming Alive.” ([link removed])
* The Washington Post’s Victoria Bisset with “Spanish journalist confronts man who she says groped her on live TV.” ([link removed])
* Time’s Vera Bergengruen with “AI Regulation Takes Baby Steps on Capitol Hill.” ([link removed])
* The Associated Press’ Dave Collins with “Alex Jones spent over $93,000 in July. Sandy Hook families who sued him have yet to see a dime.” ([link removed])

** More resources for journalists
* Power of Diverse Voices: Writing Workshop for Journalists of Color ([link removed]) (Nov. 15-18) (Seminar) — Apply by Sept. 15 ([link removed]) .
* Level Up: Critical Skills for Local Reporters ([link removed]) — (Oct. 3-14) (Online Seminar) —Apply by Sept. 18. ([link removed])
* Celebrate journalism and democracy with Anderson Cooper at Poynter’s annual Bowtie Ball in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday, Nov. 18. Get tickets. ([link removed])
* Subscribe to PolitiFact’s weekly newsletter ([link removed]) . Get facts delivered straight to your inbox.

Have feedback or a tip? Email us at [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]) .
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