A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Columnist lets AI have a crack at ‘News & Schmooze’

As if trolling Facebook and Instagram weren’t enough of a time suck, I’ve been playing around with ChatGPT, an AI language model created by OpenAI (whose CEO, Sam Altman, is Jewish, grew up in St. Louis and graduated from John Burroughs). For those unfamiliar, AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, which refers to the development of computer systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. These tasks include learning, reasoning, problem-solving, perception, understanding natural language and even creativity.

The last two sentences of that paragraph come from AI itself, or at least what ChatGPT spit out when I typed in, “What is AI?”

Make no mistake, I am no AI expert, but from what I learned, there are all kinds of free AI tools you can use to test its functionality. Some can be used similar to Google to help you learn or to sharpen your writing or even to come up with fresh ideas.

I have no clue where ChatGPT rates in the growing spectrum of AI tools, but I do know right now it’s free (at least the version I’m using is) and super simple to use. That’s a pro. But how is it at coming up with a column subject when I feel drained of inspiration and tired?

So, I asked my new best friend, ChatGPT, “What is a solid, somewhat funny column topic for the editor of the St. Louis Jewish newspaper to write about?” Here is what I got:

“How about ‘The Joys and Oys of Jewish Parenting’? This column could explore the humorous and sometimes challenging experiences of raising Jewish children in today’s world. Topics could range from the mishaps of trying to teach your kids Yiddish phrases to navigating the complexities of planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The column could also include anecdotes from the author’s own parenting journey, as well as humorous observations about the unique quirks and traditions of Jewish family life. Overall, it would offer a lighthearted and relatable perspective on the joys and challenges of being a Jewish parent.”

Not a bad subject, I’ll admit, though I’ve written several incarnations of that column over the years and Jewish Light contributor Amy Fenster Brown pretty much holds the patent on that kind of material. But it wasn’t the idea that concerned me as much as the punctuation. Why wasn’t the question mark inside the single quote marks of ‘The Joys and Oys of Jewish Parenting?’ And why was the “b” in bar and bat mitzvah capitalized? There’s nothing that burns my griddle more than random capitalizations.

Nevertheless, I did sense this was a chance for me to square the record with readers when it comes to spelling. You see, I was born without the spelling gene (thanks dad), though I have tried over the years to compensate for its lacking (thanks “Webster’s New World Dictionary,” thanks spellcheck). In that spirit, here’s a little parenting anecdote when navigating the complexities of a bar mitzvah given my spelling handicap.

In 2011, when planning son Jackson’s bar mitzvah, I worked with a graphic designer to create a text-heavy invitation. I thought it was clever, humorous and artistically pleasing, and I couldn’t have been prouder of the finished product.

I must have proofed that invitation 100 times, going over and over it to make sure every word was spelled correctly. When I was confident every word was, I gave the go-ahead to the printer for 150 copies.

When the invitations arrived, it took me less than 10 seconds to spot my spelling error. Can you find it in the picture to the right? If so, maybe you should apply to be a ChatGPT copy editor. All I know is that it cost my husband and me an extra 300 bucks to fix the misspelling and reprint the invitations. He thought we were crazy to do so, but I just couldn’t let this mistake get out the door; I was (and still am) editor of a respected Jewish publication, after all. If nothing else, its editor should know how to spell.

As I said earlier, I am no expert — in fact, I am the opposite of expert — when it comes to AI, but I am trying to learn about its pros and cons as they currently pertain to journalism. In experimenting with it, I’ve found AI can help with preparing interview questions, researching subjects and simplifying complex information, but it also has limitations, like understanding context, especially sarcasm and humor, as well as limited knowledge, which also can be biased, opinionated and/or just plain wrong. Since ChatGPT was built by collecting vast amounts of data from the internet as well as websites, books and journals, what it spits back to users can be as biased or as opinionated as the information it was initially fed.

No question that while ChatGPT — and AI in general — is a relatively new and rapid-fire developing technology, likely even a game changer, it does give plenty of room for pause. Lawsuits have been launched because of it, accusing AI of stealing others’ work, images, even voice similarities. Few standards and practices, let alone legislation, exist around it. And as for us journalists, I’d like to believe that AI can never replace the creativity, imagination and turn-of-phrases that goes into our stories, and makes it seem alive, vibrant, and well, human. 

For sure, AI is very grown-up stuff. Nothing “kiddish” about it.


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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].