A Possible Bleak Future For Community News

For a vision of the future of information for communities without a newspaper, a very stark example was given this past week following an alleged murder in Elbow Lake.

First, we’ll give you what was written in the Gran County Herald and other professional journalism organizations based on the very little known as we went to press Monday, Feb. 19.

“The Gran County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shotting in Elbow Lake between two brothers that left one dead. It reported that the age of the suspect is 30 and the victim is 33.

“According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, it received a call late Sunday (Feb. 18) at 11:18 p.m. from a caller who said he had shot his brother. Deputies went to the house, where they detained a male suspect.

“The Lake Region ambulance was also called to the home. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. Sheriff Jon Combs said the incident is an active investigation.”

Other versions of this information hit the web early the morning of Feb. 19, posted by radio stations and newspapers in the region.

As soon as the news hit the web, it spread instantly worldwide and was captured by the artificial intelligence (AI) programs of BNN (Breaking News Network.)

The following story was written by BNN with AI assistance in the early hours of Feb. 19 before charges had been filed or the names of the two involved had been released. It wasn’t known if they lived together.

Here is BNN’s headline: “Tragic Fratricide Rocks Elbow Lake, Minnesota: One Dead, Brother in Custody.”

Before we give you the story, here is a little about the “journalist
who supposedly wrote it. Muhammad Jawad, whose biography says he is “notably agile under pressure, he consistently delivers under tight timelines, with a flair for investigative journalism and data-backed story telling…he stands as a beacon of dedication consistently channeling his fervor for journalism to craft stories that resonate and inform.”

Sounds like quite the reporter. How could you not trust and appreciate his reporting? But is he real? Are his credentials real? We’ve seen AI programs instantly create incredible resumes for fictitious people. Or, take an ordinary person who has never written a news story and instantly transform him or her into a Pulitzer Prize award-winning journalist.

Here is what he supposedly wrote (it seems with considerable AI assistance), knowing only that a shooting death had been reported in Elbow Lake:

“A distressing call shatters the peace in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, revealing a tragic tale of a fraternal dispute turned deadly. As detectives investigate the moments leading to the fatal confrontation, the community reflects on the fragility of peace in the face of domestic disputes turned violent.

“The Grant County Sheriff’s Office was alerted at 11:19 p.m. to a harrowing scene; a man claimed he had just shot his brother. What unfolded next was a tragic confirmation of family ties severed by gunfire, leaving one man dead and another in the grip of law enforcement.

“A Night of Despair – Responding to the urgent all, deputies, alongside Lake Region Ambulance, rushed to the scene near March St. and Biggs Dr., a location now etched with the stark reality of loss and legal proceedings. (There is no March St. and Biggs Dr. in Elbow Lake.) The victim was pronounced dead, a somber conclusion to what was initially a call for help. The suspect, a man now facing the gravest of accusations, was taken into custody, casting a long shadow over the Larson Community, where both men reside. (And, of course, it isn’t the ‘Larson Community,’ it’s Elbow Lake. But a stellar reporter wouldn’t make that mistake, would he? He repeats the error again later.)

“The Investigation Unfolds – As the Grant County Sheriff’s Office delves into the case, details emerge of a shooting that didn’t just claim a life but also rocked a community to its core. Investigators are piecing together the moments that led to the fatal confrontation, a task complicated by the familial bond at the heart of this tragedy. The incident, shrouded in the silence of the night, now demands answers that only a thorough investigation can provide.

“A Community in Mourning – While detectives work, a community grapples with the reality of violence in its midst. The Larson Community, familiar with the quiet of rural life, now finds itself at the center of a narrative it never wished to tell – a story of a targeted attack (how does the writer know it was a ‘targeted attack?) where the victim and the alleged perpetrator shared not just a home but a lineage. The incident has prompted an outpouring of support for the bereaved, and a collective reflection on the fragility of peace in the face of domestic disputes turned violent.”

It goes on in a similar fashion for a few more excruciating paragraphs. “Our commitment is to deliver honest, fact-based, and unbiased international reporting that can be trusted,” BNN says about itself.

In its “about us” tab, BNN lists numerous national and internationally respected newspapers, magazines, and organizations that it says have used its reporting. But when you follow the links, there is no mention of BNN or its reporters.

If facts like the name of the town and the address of the alleged murder scene don’t matter, what other facts were created to fill in the blanks> What can you believe of what you read? The story sensationalizes and fabricates information. It presents assumptions as fact.

This atrocious reporting of the murder trivializes it. But it was found on the first page of a Google search about the case. How many people read it and took it seriously?

AI’s intrusion into reporting is even more frightening because anyone can now use it to fabricate stories about a community. Truth won’t matter. Facts won’t matter.

Co-Publisher’s note: Reed and Shelly Anfinson are owners of the Grant County Herald.