Storytelling in Appalachia is a craft at the root of who we are. Whether it’s family histories shared around a dinner table, ghost stories shared around a campfire, or the news journalists collect about the issues facing our communities, storytelling is something we as a people cherish. 

At 100 Days in Appalachia, we have spent more than seven years working to honor that craft – our journalism is an extension of it. We share the stories of Appalachians, collected and retold by Appalachians – Appalachians that are humans. 

For the first 15 years of my career as a journalist and an editor, both in and out of this region, I would’ve never considered that I needed to make that distinction. I am a journalist, I am a human, and the journalism I create is human-made. But new technologies – more specifically artificial intelligence – could change that. 

Since our launch in 2017, every article, feature story, video and image you’ve seen or interacted with from 100 Days in Appalachia on any platform has been created by a human. We have not used AI tools in our journalism – with one exception: We have and often do use AI to transcribe our audio interviews. Those transcriptions allow us to take the audio from a real conversation between a journalist and another Appalachian and quickly put them in writing so we can decide what’s most important, most interesting and most impactful to include in our work for you. But we do not currently use them to write our stories, edit our videos or generate the images you see on our site, in our newsletter, or on any social media platform. 

If we as an outlet want to remain relevant and sustainable, however, we have to grapple with the reality of the world we are operating in. Journalism as an industry is being forced to integrate AI for a number of reasons. Cost is certainly one of them; also efficiencies, innovation. 

But at 100 Days in Appalachia, we’re grappling not just with how to use these emerging technologies in general, but how to use them ethically. We’ve held off on using these tools because we want to protect the humans who are telling stories in our region through our platforms. But inevitably, we will have to integrate AI in some way. We are committed to doing so ethically. For now, I’ll be honest with you, 100 Days doesn’t know what that means. But we’re working to find out. 

It is impossible for us as a news operation to say we will never use artificial intelligence in the process of creating journalism, but what we can say is this: Our use will be informed by you. 

We want Appalachians to tell us what they think and feel about AI, if and how we should use it, and, most importantly, how we should communicate that use to you. That’s why this summer, we’re partnering with Trusting News – an organization that “inspires and empowers journalists to take responsibility for demonstrating their credibility and actively earning trust,” according to their mission statement – to ask you these questions. 

In a short survey, which you can take here, we’re asking you to tell us what you think of AI being used in Appalachian newsgathering and sharing, and what you want us to tell you about those processes. This survey opens today, Thursday, July 11, 2024, and will be available through August 6. 

We’ll share the results with Trusting News when the survey is complete (which you can learn more about here), but we’ll also share them back with you, our readers. We want you to know what you and your fellow Appalachians (or for some of you, ex-pats) think about this complicated issue. 

We’ll also share with you details of how your responses inform our processes moving forward. 100 Days has always valued transparency in our work, and we will continue to be clear with you about when, if and how we decide to move forward with AI integration into our storytelling. 

As Appalachians, we share your values. As journalists, we hold ourselves to the highest level of ethical standards. As Appalachian journalists, we work every day to end the cycle of journalistic extraction in our region. We promise we will continue to do this moving forward, and we look forward to you being part of this conversation to help guide how we tell our stories – stories that are for Appalachians, by Appalachians. Because, as our mission statement says, Appalachia matters. 

If you feel strongly about AI in Appalachian journalism and want to have a conversation with a member of our team, please reach out directly to Gillie Gill at [email protected]. You may be compensated for your time.

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This article was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia, a nonprofit, collaborative newsroom telling the complex stories of the region that deserve to be heard. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.