Why AI Will Never Replace Reporters at the NYT

Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, and Rosalind Russel in His Girl Friday, Hoard Hawks, director, Columbia Pictures, 1940. Screenshot.

Time: Spring 2024

Characters: A.G. Sulzberger, Chairman and Publisher; Marc Lacey, Managing Editor; Meghan Loutit, Deputy Editor, Digital News; Steven Erlanger, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent

Scene: A.G.’s office. The door is closed and blinds drawn. Meghan is seated. Marc, Steven, and A.G., stand and stare at an open laptop on a bare desk.

Marc: “Meghan, are you ready?”

Meghan: “You sure you want to do this? The reporters got wind of it and are hopping mad.”

Marc: “Is Legal on board?”

A.G. “Yeah, we’re covered. The union agreement says nothing about AI, only salary and benefits. Serve ‘em all right after holding us hostage on wages last year.

Marc: “Somebody please transcribe the following for posterity — but only on deep background. ‘On this date, The New York Times generated and for the first time published on its front page a story generated by AI. A new era in journalism has begun.’ Let it rip!”

Meghan presses ‘return’ and all eyes scan the AI generated text that appears on the laptop. After a few seconds, audible gasps are heard. A.G. shudders. He reads aloud:

NATO Summit Ends in Acrimony. Divisions Never More Clear

NATO chalked up a few successes at its summit that ended Tuesday, agreeing to provide Ukraine with additional cluster munitions and uranium contaminated tank-rounds. But divisions between European members and the United States were revealed by the hot-mike conversation between Prime Minister of France, Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister, Catherine Colonna:

“Why must we kowtow to that old shitter [vieux merde], Biden? He’s willing to fight an endless proxy war with Russia to bully China into laying off Taiwan and slowing development of their chip industry. How does that work? And he wants us to pay for the war with higher defense budgets, while also absorbing inflated energy costs because the U.S. blew-up the Nord Stream pipelines. NATO’s just a tool to protect U.S. dollar, trade, and military hegemony. Olof [German Chancellor Olof Scholz] says the same thing.”

The future of the Atlantic Alliance is thus very much in doubt today, tested at once by an intractable war and insubordinate partners….

A.G: “Woaa! I thought we buried that hot mike story! And we never printed that the U.S. blew up the pipelines, though everybody knows it. Marc, what happened?”


Marc: “Meghan, this is your fault! How did the AI brain-thingy dig up that quote from Macron? And the Nord Stream stuff too? That was all supposed to be deep-sixed!

Meghan: “Dunno. It must have scoured Times, State Department, DoD, and French and German communications.

Marc: “Steven, do you think maybe you could do a re-write.”

Steven: “Sure. Let me gather our best reporters to work with me on this. Usual line? ‘NATO the greatest defensive alliance in world history, kept the peace in Europe in the face of Soviet aggression, supported successful peace-keeping missions in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and the rest? We’ve got a lot of re-writing to do.’”


A.G. “Marc, do you think we should give our reporters a small raise this year?”

Stephen F. Eisenman is emeritus professor at Northwestern University. His latest book, with Sue Coe, is titled “The Young Person’s Guide to American Fascism,” and is forthcoming from OR Books. He can be reached at s-eisenman@northwestern.edu