Should we be scared of robots taking our jobs? Probably.
But will it really be an issue in our lifetime? Who knows! What I do know is that writing is a sort of industry where a point of view, a voice, an experience is vital to doing your job. Not only in creative writing but in journalism too: you need a life to share stories of life. That’s true of all arts “threatened” by technology.
This is why I’m not concerned about robots “taking my job.” From Google automating news writing to The Washington Post‘s robot reporters, I’m not concerned because they do have their own, terrible purpose: shitty, clickbaiting news writing that is less about you actually sharing an expertise and more about you trying to give just the facts by filling in blanks while simultaneously phishing for digital attention by filling your publisher’s coffers by stealing the internet currency of clicks. That is what a robot writer is for.
I learned that this past week after applying to contribute politics reporting for a website I hadn’t heard of. The website has a legit enough name and seemed interesting enough for me to do but it’s not necessarily a place “known for writers” or its writing. That isn’t exactly problematic at all but it does illustrate that your potential employer cares less about you and your work and more about the returns that they will get.
Don’t understand what I’m talking about? Look at this note I got from the editor in response to my application. “Thanks for your interest in working with us,” the note began. “Here’s a little more info about what we’re looking for and how we operate. If you’re still interested, let me know, and I’ll send over a questionnaire that we send to all applicants.” Then came this slice of beef that is three paragraphs of soliciting the inhuman.
“Earn a revenue share on the audience their work generates,” “we’re a major player in organic search,” “broadening our reach and creating a product”: these are all major alarm bells that your writing isn’t writing but a small cog in a giant fucking shitty, smelly, gross Internet factory. The word “writer” or “writing” doesn’t even appear in the information about your potential work. In are words like “contribution” and “build audience” and “breaking stories”: this is a job for a robot.
Why? Because this doesn’t require a heart but an algorithmic mind who can scan stories and chatter simultaneously while writing up something that can steal attention while doing nothing. It’s also for a company that most definitely doesn’t care about people or people who write: these are publications that intend to insult both writers and readers alike, making it more about them stealing attention for seconds instead of actually educating, actually working, actually caring. This sounds like the opposite of rewarding unless your “thing” is raking in anonymous clicks and calling that success – and I can guarantee you this wouldn’t get you that much money as a writer. I’ve worked for enough SEO rakers to know this and they’re all the same: dehumanizing you and anything that you do all in the service of reaching quotas and making impressions instead of trying to connect with an audience. It’s, quite simply, the definition of clickbait.
Confused about this? This is essentially what Newsweek is doing now. It’s fucking gross, it’s so not cool, and it’s just not what humans should be writing – or reading. If you’re a publisher who is trying to grab cash, by all means: have at. That’s not the type of writing any writer hoping to having a writing life wants. That’s certainly not me. That’s exactly why I didn’t reply back to this email but, perhaps, I can have an automated response handle such outreach like this.