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The end game for the claim I just made in the headline is for Zimbabwean journalists to lead national and regional efforts to humanise GenAI systems by actively participating in prompt engineering.

The effort here to involve human agency in every aspect of AI as part of the recommendations declared in the Paris Charter on AI and Journalism.

So what is prompt engineering anyway?

Simply put, prompt engineering is the art of formulating clear, specific, and purposeful instructions to guide the behaviour of AI models, enabling users to get the desired outcomes in their interactions with the technology. Now you get why and how journalists can be involved.

Journalists bring a unique set of skills to prompt engineering, including precision in language, context awareness, storytelling expertise, adaptability, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, ethical considerations, audience understanding, and an iterative mindset. These qualities position journalists as well-equipped prompt engineers for generative artificial intelligence, ensuring responsible and effective interactions with AI.

Back to the Read.

Though prompt engineering will be much easier for journalists with a bit of algebra skills, It’s not so bad again for journalists who enrolled in journalism because they didn’t pass math at O level. Platforms to upgrade your Python for journalism skill sets are endless.

I am certain that the future of story telling will be seamless. Imagine the time saved if newsrooms can collect traffic data through satellite and CCTV imaging and deploy dedicated machines to write brief updates on flash news and accidents.

The best part is that when journals are incorporated into the architecture of AI systems, the output will be more humanised because of the expert input of professional storytellers.

But for now, let’s get straight into it.

The media, particularly news organisations, are better positioned right now to take advantage of opportunities presented by artificial intelligence. Adoption of generative AI by Zimbabwean news organisations will dramatically improve news gathering, fact-checking, production, and distribution.

When all those boxes are checked,  revenue also increases—the lack of it has resulted in the death of countless media startups without funding.

During the Africa Journalism and Media Summit (AJMS 2023), I spoke at length about why it is crucial for journalists to be part of the architecture and creative work behind AI systems for journalism. During my discussion panel session, I argued for ethical and journalistic representation in AI systems to be adopted in African newsrooms. My vision became even clearer when I attended more than 8 sessions at the Africa Investigative Journalism Conference AIJC23 in Joburg, where techies and journalists all over Africa expected journalistic naunce in AI systems designed for newsrooms.

This article will unpack the opportunity for journalists to participate as prompt engineers in the architecture of their own newsrooms using GenAI systems. The best combination to build in-house tools is through collaborations between the techies and journalists. That’s why this paper stands to argue that journalists make the best prompt engineers.

Why journalists will make the best prompt engineers

OpenAI is making commendable efforts to demmictatize efforts by making their API available. It means that newsrooms are able to build their own chatbots, similar to ChatGPT.

Zimbawean journalists are some of the best writers in the subregion. After many years of manual copy editing and writing, journalists with experience in handling written content will succeed at this mission without a doubt.

To achieve the desirable results in prompt engineering, journalists will need to deliberately upskill with programming languages, including Python. It is an initiative that must start with journalism colleges and newsrooms investing in their staff.

Zimbawean media organisations could be the pioneers of the template to humanise GenAI systems designed for newsrooms.

I strongly urge news organisations to expand operations by investing in GenAI toolkits for their newsrooms and audiences.

This will unlock creativity and revolutionise story-telling at the community level.

Journalists possess a combination of qualities and skills that make them exceptionally well-suited for the role of prompt engineers in the realm of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). There are several compelling reasons why journalists excel in this capacity.

Firstly, precision in language is a hallmark of journalistic training. Journalists are adept at using precise and clear language to effectively convey information, a skill that proves crucial in prompt engineering. This proficiency ensures that the AI model comprehends the user’s intent accurately and generates appropriate responses.

Additionally, journalists exhibit a high degree of context awareness. Their expertise lies in understanding and operating within specific contexts, a valuable asset when crafting prompts. This ability enables them to provide the necessary background or details for the AI model, enhancing its capacity to generate responses that are contextually relevant.

Furthermore, the storytelling expertise ingrained in journalists makes them natural prompt engineers. Their innate ability to structure information to engage and inform an audience can be applied to crafting prompts that guide the AI in generating compelling narratives or detailed responses.

Journalists are known for their adaptability to tone and style, a skill honed through the necessity of adapting writing styles and tones to suit diverse audiences and contexts. This adaptability proves beneficial in tailoring prompts for GenAI, ensuring that the model produces responses with specific tones, styles, or levels of formality.

Critical thinking is another key attribute of journalists. Trained to consider multiple perspectives and verify information, this critical thinking skill is crucial in prompt engineering. It allows journalists to anticipate how the AI might interpret requests and frame prompts that steer clear of biases or ethical pitfalls.

Journalists also bring problem-solving skills to prompt engineering, having often encountered complex issues in their reporting. This problem-solving ability guides the AI to provide insightful solutions or analyses when responding to prompts.

Ethical considerations are inherent in the work of journalists, and this ethical awareness is vital in prompt engineering. Journalists frame questions and requests in a responsible manner, thus avoiding potential biases or the generation of inappropriate content by the AI.

The deep understanding that journalists have of their target audience is a valuable asset in prompt engineering. This knowledge enables them to tailor queries that resonate with specific user groups, eliciting responses that are not only informative but also engaging.

Finally, the iterative process is familiar to journalists, who regularly revise and refine their work. This iterative mindset proves beneficial in prompt engineering, where experimentation with different phrasings or approaches may be necessary to achieve the desired output from the AI.

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By Richard Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.