By John Branston       

The Gannett News company has come under fire for possibly using artificial intelligence (AI) instead of human reporters to write news stories.       

How would they know?, you ask.  Gannett, parent company of a local publication, denied the accusation through a human.

I am not so sure. The evidence is mixed. Gannett’s USA Today Network in Nashville and Jackson has produced some excellent reporting on BlueOval City and the UAW strike.

For whatever reason, little of it has made its way into the local publication more attuned to the Tigers and getting the knack of Elwood’s Shack. Such fodder could easily be produced by AI.

AI is actually nothing new. I was schooled on it as a cub reporter infesting a news service known as UPI, where I replaced a trained chimp to produce the likes of this:

Jackson (UPI) – A subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee Tuesday advanced a bill that would raise truck-weight limits to 82,000 pounds from 77,999 pounds.

Henry Heavyload, spokesman for the Mississippi Trucking Lobby and Advocacy Group, called the bill “the secret to unlocking value throughout the great state of Mississippi.”

Rep. Clem Clodhopper (R-Benzonia), owner of the Less Than Truckload Carrier Company, called the proposed legislation “a gateway to the doors of hell.”

The bill advances to the full committee and possibly the full legislature.

McComb (UPI)– A tornado tore through south Mississippi Friday night, leaving a trail of destruction some 20 miles long.

The twister destroyed a barn owned by Herman Hickman, who said his hogs and chickens will have to survive without full rations and housing this year.

A spokesman for the Poultry Association declined comment.

These stories met the basic rules of old-school reporting: get it first but first get it right; leave yourself and your fancy writing out and go with the cliche; and quote an official source, usually a man in a uniform with a title. The source might be wrong or fudging, but it was safe to say that the source had said it. Wire services around the world produced thousands of such “he said she said” stories every day for their clients.

If the once glorious morning paper at 495 Union – long abandoned – wraps its techie arms around AI, who cares? It would be the last gasp of a dying beast.

AI is the T-Rex in this movie. Smart City Memphis founder/blogger Tom Jones tells a cautionary tale worth retelling.

“AI stories are pretty easy to catch. I asked for an AI document about (former Shelby County mayor) Bill Morris – one had him Black and another had him dead.”

Morris is neither.


John Branston was a reporter and columnist in Memphis for 40 years 


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