April 18 was National Columnists Day. I like to point out to friends that in 30-odd years I may never have won an award for my writing, but I’ve learned the people we meet are the reward. The conversation with our community.
As many try to divide us, community journalism is more important than ever, and the columnist is the model community journalist. They may write on varied subjects, but they tell us about each other — our neighbors, our colleagues and friends.
And while not every experience may rise to the level of a full news article, a column is often the perfect venue to tell those stories.
Case in point: Monday night, WYDaily and The Tide hosted students from The Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce’s Pathways2Careers program, which “connects local high school and high-school-level homeschool students with businesses in the Greater Williamsburg area.”
For a couple of hours, students had the opportunity to hear about today’s media market, radio station operations, WYDaily and the role of community journalism.
After providing the students with a five-minute crash course in Journalism 101, I had them work on an exercise, mapping out the basic structure of a local news story. Then I opened it up to a Q&A.
Certainly, a lot has changed since I was their age. Today’s kids get their news a lot differently than I did. And we hear a lot of negativity about attention spans and apathy. For the record, that negativity is misplaced. I was bowled over by the thoughtful and informed questions I was asked. Things like:
- How has technology altered the way I work?
- After all these years, do I still enjoy the job?
- What do I do when a story isn’t turning out the way I wanted?
- How do I make my writing more concise?
But the question that stuck with me the morning after was something we have been hearing about a lot in the news lately:
- How is AI going to impact my work?
While ChatGPT has brought the AI question to the forefront, AI and journalism have been dancing around each other for years. The Associated Press has been putting out automated sports stories for some time. Obviously, as journalists, we fear for the craft, and we fear for our livelihood.
That said, as good as it may become, I can’t see AI taking the place of community journalists. AI can’t decipher the nuances of the Spotswood rezoning question. Nor could it conceive of Ferris’ Day Off. And people like Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott aren’t likely to open up to a ’bot. All are recent stories or features you can find at WYDaily.com — content that couldn’t be replicated by artificial intelligence.
April 18 was not a date that was arbitrarily chosen for National Columnists Day. It is also Ernie Pyle Remembrance Day, marking the day the great WWII columnist was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Many reported the war, but Pyle made something inconceivable tangible for folks back home. He told stories about people.
That’s something for all columnists, and all community journalists, to strive for. A place is simply a place, even one as unique as the Historic Triangle. The people are what give it its personality, and community journalists are the ones who can tell that story. Put simply, AI can’t speak community, because it isn’t part of the community. We are.
Chris Six is the Managing Editor of WYDaily. Email him at email@example.com.