"Journalists should think of AI more as a tool that can be used to improve their work, rather than a real competition. With this tool, it's like with a knife - it's up to us whether we cut a slice of bread with it or turn it into a murder weapon..." - says Piotr Łuczuk, a media expert and journalist, cyber security expert, author of scientific books and deputy director of the Institute of Media Education and Journalism at UKSW and assistant professor at the Department of Social Communication, Public Relations, and New Media at this Warsaw university. Interviewed by Magda Anisiewicz, junior account manager for OneMulti.
MA: Good morning Mr. Piotr! What a surprise to meet you outside the walls of the university. I have very kind memories of our cooperation in writing my diploma thesis. I am grateful for the knowledge and experience that you shared with me. I am glad that despite your numerous responsibilities at the university, you found time to talk to me. Mr. Piotr, what skills do you consider crucial for a journalist and how do you work on developing them?
PŁ: I've always liked American movies that featured a problematic journalist. In fact, this pursuit of the truth and explaining to people the phenomena and processes that someone often tries to hide from them are some of the main pillars of journalism. Above all, a journalist, like a doctor, must constantly acquire knowledge. He cannot rest on his laurels or he will be left behind. It is up to us to make sure that the public is informed about something and, even more importantly, that they understand something from this information. There is a lot of talk about specializing in a particular field, but I personally believe that a journalist - even if he or she is a specialist in a field - should have extensive general knowledge. This used to be called erudition. How does it work in practice? Very often I have several started books (from scientific to fiction) arranged around the house and successively try to finish them. When I started to run out of time to read, I started listening to books, although just two years ago I had insisted on "paper books only". It turned out that in just a few months I read/listened to four times as much as in the corresponding period before the era of audiobooks in my life. All of this helps a lot in finding myself in all sorts of situations that a journalist might just find himself in, plus, I never run out of topics to talk to new people I meet. And this brings us to the last and, in my opinion, most important pillar of journalism - getting contacts. I tell the journalism students at UKSW whom I teach from the very first year that it's a good idea to write down contacts to all your classmates in the year. You never know how their careers will turn out and who they will be in the future. Someone will become a minister, someone else a CEO in a large company. There will be people who will work in major editorial offices (and maybe even manage them), and there will also be advertising and marketing specialists, future sports celebrities (even Olympians), or famous musicians. A journalist's list of contacts is never-ending. In fact, every person you meet is a potential informant or contact that will pay off in the future.
I don't want this to sound cynical, although it may give the impression of opportunism. However, it is pure pragmatism. It is worthwhile to forge contacts and make yourself remembered by these people - in a positive way, of course.
These are the values I try to pass on to the adepts of journalism and the journalists I work with every day.
MA: Yes it's true, I remember exactly how you repeatedly told us about building your network of contacts as the basis of the work of a journalist. What else do you want to teach your students, and what did they teach you?
PŁ: Let me start with the second part of the question. Definitely, every year of working with students teaches me something completely new. It is largely thanks to the students, both as a university lecturer and as a researcher or journalist, that I am fairly up to date with the latest trends. It is from the students, for example, that one can learn which social media are now on top, and which are considered "grandfathered" social media. In turn, when I teach classes using the project method, I can often find out how creative future journalists, employees of PR companies, and advertising agencies are. And it's crazy happy to see such small successes, such as the fact that today we can talk because you found a job in your profession. Or the fact that your colleague from my seminar - Klaudia - was able to see by her own example how one can become famous overnight - all thanks to social media and a bachelor's thesis that the whole of Poland was talking about. What, then, would I like to teach them? First and foremost, at no stage of their career should they lose that creativity of theirs. I often repeat in my classes the famous slogan "sky is the limit" - the more students understand that they are mostly limited by their own fears, the greater things they will be able to accomplish in the future. What I would like to teach students is to be able to stand firmly on the ground - although sometimes with their heads in the clouds. Don't be afraid to dream and don't wait too long to realize those dreams.
MA: Mr. Piotr, what is the most important mission of a journalist these days?
PŁ: Definitely the pursuit of truth, although the consequences of this action for many in the profession are an effective brake. Journalism is a profession of public trust and a kind of mission. This mission is to reliably inform the public about the world around them. Unfortunately, it often boils down to a hackneyed statement: good news is bad news. Because, after all, we are fighting for clicks, more sales, and the best viewership and citations. In pursuing these goals, however, we forget about journalistic ethics.
All in all, instead of dwelling on this any longer I would like to show something. We live in a picture society, so this picture will speak more powerfully than a thousand words:
It's about Banksy's graphic, which is the quintessential example of what the profession of journalism should not look like. The most important task for a journalist these days is to make this image obsolete as soon as possible.
MA: This graphic gives much to think about. And what do you think the perfect relationship between PR and journalism should look like?
PŁ: The biggest problem in the relationship between PR and journalism is all kinds of entitlement attitudes of representatives of both sides. We often treat PR and journalism as two different worlds. Meanwhile, it's not that journalism is from Mars and PR is from Venus. These two worlds intermingle quite a bit, and the best results can be achieved precisely based on the synergy of journalism and PR.
MA: Now let's move on to artificial intelligence. How will AI affect the work of journalists 1 year from today?
PŁ: Certainly, journalists will have to reevaluate their approach to their profession. I have my own theory about the impact of AI on journalism. It involves a kind of end to creativity. Today artificial intelligence is still more artificial than intelligent - we are seeing it automating certain processes and our work at a dizzying pace. I put forward the thesis that journalists who show large amounts of creativity need not worry about their place in the profession. However, wherever certain processes are repetitive, a human being will be able to be replaced by a machine or an algorithm. It's a matter of optimizing working time and efficiency. A machine or algorithm will perform certain repetitive processes much faster, such as simple research, analyzing photo databases, or even writing a simple text. However, anyone who has read the poems and journalistic texts written by ChatGPT probably sees the difference between a human and a machine - at least I hope so. The real threat to journalism will come when this difference is blurred and audiences cease to know which material was developed by a human and which was generated by a machine. AI in journalism is quite an opportunity, but also quite a threat. Will artificial intelligence take our jobs? Certainly, there will be a kind of natural selection in journalism over the next few years. Only the best will remain in the profession, those who cannot be replaced by an algorithm. I know of cases of editors trying to use AI processes in generating journalistic content. Admittedly, the machine is able to generate this content much faster than a human, it does not get tired and bored writing another text on the same topic, ultimately, at the end of the whole process there is a human supervising its work anyway. Otherwise, we will be fed information mush that may have little to do with facts. Just do a simple test and ask ChatGPT for your bio. We will get the answer in just a few seconds. Will it be true? I don't think so.
Back to the point - journalists should think of AI more as a tool that can be used to improve their work, rather than a real competition. With this tool, it's like with a knife - it's up to us whether we cut a slice of bread with it or turn it into a murder weapon...".
MA: How do you deal with the stress, criticism, and possible pressures that come with working in the media? Do you manage to maintain a healthy balance between your professional work and personal life?
PŁ: Criticism can effectively clip wings, which is why it is so important to develop all sorts of defence mechanisms. I know of cases of well-known journalists who read comments under their texts or engage in discussions with all kinds of haters on social media. Does this positively affect their work? Rather not. One well-known and respected publicist approached any criticism of himself very emotionally. From there, it's a straight path to depression. Especially in the digital age. With the help of social media, it's relatively easy to make a name for yourself and quickly gain fame, but it's just as easy to become the object of heckling and be discredited. How to deal with all this? Admittedly, I don't have some kind of universal recipe for every journalist, although if you think about it longer, I actually have an idea that works in most cases. I usually start my classes with journalism students by emphasizing the importance of finding your safety valve. In my case - as I mentioned earlier - it's music. A few hours with the band in the rehearsal room or recording studio gives me a kick for the next few days and allows me to unload and cleanse myself of negative emotions. Some people do boxing, others run, and still others choose therapy. I pick up a guitar and stand at the microphone. And that's enough for me.
Of course, things are not always so colourful. After all, we don't live in a utopia. Sometimes it is really difficult to separate professional work and personal life, especially considering remote work. I, for one, consciously chose this work model a dozen years ago, and frankly, I don't regret it. Although friends are often surprised when I say that I love working from home, over the years I have developed effective mechanisms for separating "time at work" and "after work." Unfortunately, this is quite a difficult task, since one is a journalist practically 24/7, especially when managing a team of journalists or other professionals. However, it is important to properly set your life priorities. If you feel like it, you can easily find time to play with your children or go out together with your wife - especially if you share similar passions and interests. In maintaining a healthy balance, of course, the support of loved ones is extremely important. Without it, it would be difficult to find meaning in all this, and who would want to do something that doesn't make sense?
To sum up - in order not to burn out too quickly in this profession, you need to properly arrange your priorities, sometimes let some things go, and not worry about issues and opinions over which you have no influence, just do your own thing.
MA: Finally, I ask you to complete the sentence: if I do not write, then ...
PŁ: I sing and play guitar locked in a rehearsal room with a band. And so seriously (although this about playing and singing is also quite serious), this year my professional life resembles a rollercoaster ride. In addition to heading the editorial board of filarybiznesu.pl and writing columns as part of a regular journalism column, I took on the role of IT director for a certain very interesting media project, and in parallel, I was appointed deputy director of the Institute of Media Education and Journalism at UKSW. On top of that, I occasionally give talks, trainings and speak at conferences in the area of cyber-security and digital communications, and work on academic articles on these very topics. Quite a lot for one person right? And one still has to find time to travel in all this... And so far, somehow managed to combine all this.
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