“Stories that come in appeal to emotions, but today emotions are controlled by algorithms”

Darío Pescador, director of Quo, summarizes the conclusions of the 24th Huesca Journalism Congress marked by artificial intelligence

They will excuse me for the little battle. In one of the first congresses of the then digital journalism, a veteran editor of the newspaper defended that what was done on the Internet was not journalism. After 24 years dismantling and building journalism in Huesca, I can only imagine what this gentleman’s face would look like when he saw this year’s Congress inaugurated by Acciona’s robot dog.

Journalist Carlos Franganilo of Televisión Española said advances like artificial intelligence put us on the verge of a technological revolution. And, it’s true, but that’s the state we seem to have been in for nearly a quarter of a century.

If texts generated by robots just five years ago looked like they were written by a chimpanzee on a keyboard. Now it looks more like the work of an ad agency intern, but with excellent spelling. Correct, but soulless.

Artificial intelligence still cannot overcome this gap called umysterious valley, the haunted valley, which makes us wary of what looks human but isn’t. It’s the difference between considering something a prodigy or an abomination, between “how cute” and “how scary.”

But perhaps instead of laughing and patting ourselves on the back at the current failures of artificial intelligence, we should ask ourselves how long until that manufactured news has a soul indistinguishable from a human being, before the haunted gate closes. Of course the robot will do this by learning from what other humans write and do, but isn’t that what interns do? Isn’t that what we all did?

Lola García reminded us that defining the news agenda, that is, focusing the public’s attention as much as possible, is essential for journalism. The risk of the media losing relevance with the public, of its disaffection, has been forming since the 2008 financial crisis, when a large part of the population realized that the news was on the side of the banks and not the people. For them to read us, trust and transparency are needed, knowing who owns the channel through which the news reaches you. As Daniel Basteiro reminded us, people know that if they are not paying for the news it is because someone has already paid.

The fight is uneven. Toni Aira explained to us that attention is the gold of the 21st century. Without attention, the message is not transmitted. A story that is not enough is a failed story, as María Díaz said. But what stories are to come? The same as millennia ago: the ones that appeal to our emotions. And nowadays, like it or not, people’s emotions are controlled by algorithms.

The numbers sing and the public votes with their eyes on the screen. TikTok, Instagram or Twitch monopolize traffic numbers that are a wet dream for the media because artificial intelligence and thousands of engineers, psychologists and sociologists are working tirelessly in technology companies to refine the system and that you, specifically you , do not stop giving the finger .

We fought tooth and nail for them to “make us at home”. The journalists’ weapons at this Congress are the same as they were 24 years ago: professionalism, rigor, ability to capture and fascinate people with stories. When in doubt, more journalism, as Alberto Grimaldi said.

María Sánchez of the New York Times has warned us about the dangers of taking this reasoning to an extreme. Journalists cannot afford to overwhelm the public with disasters and clashes, they must be given a break. The alternative is the psychological phenomenon of news avoidance, a growing number of people deciding that the media makes their lives more stressful.

Unfortunately, what matters least is the content. On the screen of those watching us, an investigative report with months of work occupies the same space as a minute of video. It is no longer about the social networks that serve us as dances and kittens, but about the ability to give each person, through data analysis, exactly what they want to see and hear. This technological change is making democracy stop working and forces us to agree with the definition of the media, as Clara Jiménez, from Maldita, reminded us. The question is whether the public can be aware of this definition when a one-minute video arrives via WhatsApp.

This is war and you are in the trenches where journalists struggle every day to reconnect with the rest of humanity. Journalists’ messages are transformed, packaged and channeled to occupy that tiny piece of glass the size of a playing card for two minutes. Whether it’s information from public institutions or the weather report, there’s no alternative but to climb onto the wooden crate in the city’s busiest square if we want to be heard.

This is what the new journalistic projects and the more traditional media have in common: the desire to make the message reach a landscape that does not stop. Because the flow of information is not water flowing through an aqueduct, but an ocean with waves that must be surfed.

This year, this summary of the Huesca Journalism Congress was made by a human being, not by an artificial intelligence, despite my attempts (unsuccessfully) to get ChatGPT to help me with the task. As long as it takes soul to tell stories, we have no other choice.

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