6/4/24 · Institutional

Patrick Radden Keefe: "AI can lead you to an article that seems to have been written by me but it's not true. It's invented it"

US writer and journalist Patrick Radden Keefe launches the CCCB's international residency programme in partnership with the UOC
Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe is the first resident in an international programme that the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona is undertaking in partnership with the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (© CCCB, Andreu Adrover, 2021).

The American Patrick Radden Keefe, one of the leading figures in contemporary investigative journalism and one of the most important writers of literary non-fiction of his generation, talked about the threats to his profession and the process involved in putting a story together. He did so as the first resident in an international programme that the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) is undertaking in partnership with the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). The programme was presented at a press conference in Barcelona on 4 June.

Keefe talked about AI, why people are tired of the subject, and why the press is not writing more articles about it. In his opinion, "most of us just want to have a normal day, pick up our kids... and we can't deal with such an abstract subject so quickly". He also talked about the dangers of AI, which "can lead you to an article that seems to have been written by me but it's not true. It's invented it." He added: "AI can invent this press conference and attribute to me words I haven't said."

However, the major threat facing journalism today, according to Keefe, is political: "Corporate political power is a very real threat. The press has become demonized in political discourse." This means that the idea of "objective truth" is "fragile", and makes "our work increasingly difficult" because "people say you're producing fake news or political propaganda".

He also explained that when he writes "about anyone with wealth, I know that they will try to come after me with their legal team". Fortunately, he writes for The New Yorker, which has expert legal advisers.

As for the process of journalistic creation and the search for good stories, Keefe explained that "I don't really go looking for ideas. They usually find me." He likes to "chat" with people and "look for fresh angles," so he can decide "whether the material is good and can provide a narrative". And he confessed that he has to "fight to get the attention" of an audience that is often distracted by their smartphones.

Keefe, author of books such as Say Nothing (Periscopi/Reservoir Books, 2020), about the conflict in Northern Ireland, and Empire of Pain (Periscopi/Reservoir Books, 2021) about the Sackler dynasty, will be in Barcelona in June and July. He is looking forward to his time in the city, and is interested in "the language, independence, history and trauma of enforced disappearances". He said he was grateful to the CCCB and the UOC for giving him the opportunity to take up "this residency".

He was accompanied at the press conference by the director of the CCCB, Judit Carrera, and the UOC's Vice Rector for Alliances, Community and Culture, Manel Jiménez-Morales. They discussed the partnership between the two institutions in this project: "We are doing this programme with the UOC because we want to establish relationships with key academic institutions in the region," said Carrera. In turn, Jiménez-Morales pointed out that "universities are spaces for creating alliances and generating knowledge".

“Corporate political power is a very real threat”
Patrick Radden Keefe. Verdades frágiles

Activities with Patrick Radden Keefe in Barcelona

The first activity resulting from his residency is the lecture on Journalism and the Boundaries of Truth, which Keefe gave to 350 secondary school students after the press conference had concluded. He reflected on the importance of investigative journalism and the consequences of failing to discover and defend the truth.

Among other projects, Keefe will also be the curator of Orwell Day 2024 (on 5, 12 and 19 June at the CCCB), where he'll give a talk on "Fragile truths: confronting the powerful when journalism is under assault", analysing the state of journalism and freedom of expression today.


International residency programme

The project, which has been possible thanks to the support of the Mir-Puig Foundation, will welcome nine leading figures in creativity and thought from all over the world to Barcelona between 2024 and 2027 to spend two to three months in the city, in order to undertake projects together and establish links with thinkers and institutions in the city.

The next residents in this international programme are journalist and climate activist Eliane Brum; writer, film director and feminist activist Tsitsi Dangarembga, and writer, linguist, translator, researcher and activist Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil.


Collaboration between the CCCB and the UOC

The collaboration with the CCCB is being led by the UOC's Culture department, with support from Marina Garcés, from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, as the project's academic liaison. The university will be actively engaged in producing content and programmes during the residencies, and will make the materials produced available to its community of students and teaching staff. The project is an outstanding opportunity for both the UOC and the CCCB to try out new formats for the transfer and dissemination of knowledge.

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