The full scope of CNET's layoffs after its disastrous foray into AI-powered journalism is coming further into focus — and frankly, things don't look too good.
According to internal correspondence Futurism obtained, CNET — which has maintained that the job cuts have absolutely nothing to do with their misfired AI, actually — gutted 50 percent of its news and video staff in the most recent culling.
That's a striking number, especially in light of the fact that CNET's owner, Red Ventures, very much appears like it's planning to start up its mystery AI machine once again.
Remember, CNET's editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo — who in a grim punchline is stepping down to become the company's VP of AI content strategy — defended the tech after a public outcry as a bid to free up journalists to do more interesting work.
"The goal: to see if the tech can help our busy staff of reporters and editors with their job to cover topics from a 360-degree perspective," she wrote in January. "Will this AI engine efficiently assist them in using publicly available facts to create the most helpful content so our audience can make better decisions? Will this enable them to create even more deeply researched stories, analyses, features, testing and advice work we're known for?"
That clearly didn't work out so well, with the site's news operation now cut off at the knees. In an email to Futurism, CNET neither confirmed nor denied the 50 percent figure.
"Out of respect of those leaving the CNET Group," a CNET spokesperson wrote in an email, "we will not be sharing specific details of yesterday's reorganization."
And according to a source familiar with the matter, CNET isn't the only Red Ventures publication to be hit with massive editorial layoffs. ZDNET, another Red Ventures-owned tech outlet, lost 35 percent of its editorial staff. And to that end, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that Red Ventures were rolling its editorial AI system out over at ZDNET, too.
"Today's decision," a CNET spokesperson told Variety, "was not a reflection of the value or performance of our team members, the use of emerging technologies, or our confidence in the CNET Group's future."
In other words: "AI who?"
"To prepare ourselves for a strong future, we will need to focus on how we simplify our operations and our tech stack," Carlos Angrisano, president of financial services and the CNET Group at Red Ventures, wrote in a Thursday morning email to CNET staff, according to a report from The Verge, "and also on how we invest our time and energy."
Per the Verge, Angrisano's email additionally noted that the reorganization was part of a broader effort to focus on "consumer technology, home and wellness, energy, broadband, and personal finance" — indeed, an effort that CNET echoed in their statement to us, explaining that such are "categories where the CNET Group has a high degree of authority, relevance, differentiation and where we can make a large difference in the lives of our audience."
"We believe success in these focus areas will set the groundwork for future expansion," the statement continued, "and create the right conditions for a high-growth, sustainable business."
According to a current staffer, that makes perfect sense. Those content categories, they told the Verge, are where the SEO-hound that is Red Ventures is likely to bring in the most affiliate-link cash — even if the quality of the work suffers.
"But those sections are shadows of what they once were, particularly home," said the staffer, per the report. "If you want to do that section the right way, you don't sell off your Smart Home, get rid of its video team and cripple your editorial staff."
And as for "making a large difference in the lives" of its audience, let's hope that the information that CNET is publishing is actually right this time — otherwise, while the difference that the company makes is still bound to be a big one, it's also bound to be a bad one.
At the end of the day, we understand that everyone's got a bottom line. But there's a difference between bottom lines and rock bottoms, and if you have to stoop this far to ensure that your bottom line is taken care of, it's worth wondering if the road taken was worth it.
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