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Journalism and AI

Jeff Jarvis
Whither news?
Published in
9 min readJan 9, 2024

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Here are are my written remarks for a hearing on AI and the future of journalism for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on January 10, 2024.

I have been a journalist for fifty years and a journalism professor for the last eighteen.

1. History

I would like to begin with three lessons on the history of news and copyright, which I learned researching my book, The Gutenberg Parenthesis: The Age of Print and its Lessons for the Age of the Internet (Bloomsbury, 2023):

First, America’s 1790 Copyright Act covered only charts, maps, and books. The New York Times’ suit against OpenAI claims that, “Since our nation’s founding, strong copyright protection has empowered those who gather and report news to secure the fruits of their labor and investment.” In truth, newspapers were not covered in the statute until 1909 and even then, according to Will Slauter, author of Who Owns the News: A History of Copyright (Stanford, 2019), there was debate over whether to include news articles, for they were the products of the institution more than an author.

Second, the Post Office Act of 1792 allowed newspapers to exchange copies for free, enabling journalists with the literal title of “scissors editor” to copy and reprint each others’ articles, with the explicit intent to create a network for news, and with it a nation.

Third, exactly a century ago, when print media faced their first competitor — radio — newspapers were hostile in their reception. Publishers strong-armed broadcasters into signing the 1933 Biltmore Agreement by threatening not to print program listings. The agreement limited radio to two news updates a day, without advertising; required radio to buy their news from newspapers’ wire services; and even forbade on-air commentators from discussing any event until twelve hours afterwards — a so-called “hot news doctrine,” which the Associated Press has since tried to resurrect. Newspapers lobbied to keep radio reporters out of the Congressional press galleries. They also lobbied for radio to be regulated, carving an exception to the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of expression and the press.

Publishers accused radio — just as they have since accused television and the internet and AI — of stealing “their”…

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Jeff Jarvis
Whither news?

Blogger & prof at CUNY’s Newmark J-school; author of Geeks Bearing Gifts, Public Parts, What Would Google Do?, Gutenberg the Geek