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When generative AI (AI) was unleashed on the world in early 2023, it had most of us journalists quaking in our boots. We were astounded at the speed and dexterity of ChatGPT, how it seemed to understand the English language like a native speaker and respond to prompts with nuanced replies and yes, at times, even humour.

For weeks, this was all we spoke about. I remember a rather heated discussion outside our gym class about whether the bots were after our jobs. One of our clients had opted to begin writing their financial and tax-related articles by making use of ChatGPT, which they claimed would save them between R3,50 to R5 per word on writer’s fees.

In the end, we decided we couldn’t ignore the threat that ChatGPT and other large-language models, such as Microsoft Copilot, pose. We probably would be losing out on commissions from clients for short, generic articles. Why pay a writer when ChatGPT can tell you what the five causes of acne are?

But we did agree that there might be a new source of revenue for us, too. Although ChatGPT may work nicely for such clients on a limited basis, it’s always going to be a good idea for them to ensure that their AI-generated articles are edited (for grammatical errors, such as US spellings) and fact-checked (for professional accuracy) before they publish them. In most cases, the length of articles is a problem. Longer, more complicated pieces require a seasoned writer to put them together.

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Further, while ChatGPT and similar platforms may be able to help you with a bereavement card when you’re at a loss for words (i.e. “I am deeply sorry for your loss and I know how difficult it can be to cope with the death of a loved one… Please know that I’m here for you…), there are other instances where it comes up short. Can you imagine AI taking the place of a political journalist reporting from a war zone? Hardly. Or giving a commentary of how the ANC has fared governing our country for the past 30 years? It could, of course, but the result may be a little bland.

Let’s dive down into more limitations of ChatGPT:

• Both grammar and facts should be checked by a human brain, according to your region (UK/US) and to ensure your copy is professionally accurate.
• Human beings can reach great heights of creativity, depending on their skills, thinking abilities and what they have experienced in life. Such levels of uniqueness and originality cannot be expected from an AI tool.
• Language and emotion are tightly bound together across most cultures and belief systems. So, while ChatGPT and the like may be able to aid an unskilled writer’s levels of expression, someone with a bit more linguistic clout may find its rumblings rather shallow and unexpressive.

For those in content-creation and marketing jobs who are bravely making use of ChatGPT to automate a few of the more mundane aspects of their work, you’re on the right path! Fresh ideas and perspectives? Tick. Data and research collection? That’s the ticket. Creation of an initial draft, that you then edit and add to yourself? Perfection.

Vanessa Rogers is the owner and founder of TextBOX Conceptual, a boutique copywriting and PR agency based in Cape Town.