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Modern technologies cannot replace skilled human specialists: Beijing Review visuals head Pam Tobey

Pam Tobey speaks at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication (Photo by Rick Dunham)

By IRINA KOMAROVA (Ирина Комарова)

Global Business Journalism reporter

Technological advances have enabled journalistic progress, but the latest modern technologies still cannot replace skilled human specialists, Pam Tobey, visuals director for The Beijing Review said in an online interview with Tsinghua University students on Oct. 7.

“Sterile and not very imaginative,” Tobey said about the effectiveness of Artificial Intelligence in visualizing data.

Tobey left her post as graphics editor at Washington Post in 2014 after 30 years with the U.S. newspaper and moved to Beijing. Since then she’s been visuals director for The Beijing Review.

In her interview, the American journalist told students from the Global Business Journalism program about changes in the graphic creation process she faced early in her career in 1980s. Tobey described the process of manual graphics creation before the computer era. She and her colleagues had to deal with many complex procedures and labor-intensive challenges. Later, technological advances made it easier and quicker to create high quality news graphics.

Digital news production “benefits from the challenges” caused by constant technological change, said Tobey.

She pointed out that the fact that she is working for a Chinese magazine while staying in the U.S., something that would not have been possible if people hadn’t been challenged by distances in a globalized world.

“It has united media around the world,” Tobey said about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operation of media outlets.

In the veteran news artist’s opinion, journalists are sharing data more than before during the pandemic. It helps smaller organizations and freelancers to contribute to coverage.

Tobey touched upon the use of AI as one of the most prominent trends in the media sphere. She thinks that although AI is developing fast and already able to complete some tasks within graphics creation process, it is still not imaginative enough to replace humans. People take advantage of their ideas and creativity, and add much value to the process.

"It is a creativity element that makes you [a human] stand out," said Tobey.

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