The steady march of AI in journalism continues — though the outcome, both for the health of the information ecosystem and the financial wellbeing of publishers that embrace it, remains as hazy as ever.
G/O Media, a major online media company that runs publications including Gizmodo, Kotaku, Quartz, Jezebel, and Deadspin, has announced that it will begin a "modest test" of AI content on its sites.
These trials have already led to a flood of error-laden, plagiarized, and poorly written content due to badly implemented — and, some would argue, inherently unsuited AI models — that still have a strong tendency to make up facts. Pushes to AI content have also preceded sweeping layoffs at CNET and BuzzFeed.
In an email to staff, G/O Media editorial director Merrill Brown argued that the news shouldn't come as a surprise since "everyone in the media business" has been considering AI.
The trial will include "producing just a handful of stories for most of our sites that are basically built around lists and data," Brown wrote. "These features aren't replacing work currently being done by writers and editors, and we hope that over time if we get these forms of content right and produced at scale, AI will, via search and promotion, help us grow our audience."
Despite these half-hearted assurances, the announcement came to the horror of many journalists at G/O.
Unions representing G/O Media and The Onion staff issued a statement, writing that "we are appalled by this news. The hard work of journalists cannot be replaced by unreliable AI programs notorious for creating falsehoods and plagiarizing the work of real writers."
Gizmodo and Kotaku staff, in particular, were outraged at the news.
"AI content will not replace my work — but it will devalue it, place undue burden on editors, destroy the credibility of my outlet, and further frustrate our audience," Gizmodo journalist Lin Codega tweeted in response to the news. "AI in any form, only undermines our mission, demoralizes our reporters, and degrades our audience's trust."
"Hey! This sucks!" tweeted Kotaku writer Zack Zwiezen. "Please retweet and yell at G/O Media about this! Thanks."
There are several reasons we shouldn't be surprised that yet another media conglomerate is falling for the allure of AI-generated content, even after its disastrous rollout elsewhere.
G/O Media in particular already has a less-than-stellar standing in the industry. The company has gone through its fair share of controversies over the last couple of years, including badly-negotiated buyouts, continued layoffs, and mass resignations. Its CEO Jim Spanfeller has rarely, if ever, respected the independence of newsrooms and has long been seen as a driving force behind the company's eroding reputation.
And all of that is in spite of extremely talented writers and editors, who have historically stood up for themselves when it comes to their parent company's abysmal leadership.
In short, it's no wonder staffers are exhausted by the company's latest decision.
"This news comes after years of disinvestment in our newsrooms, increased demands on reporters and editors, and mass attrition of staff," the unions' statement reads. "Furthermore, it comes mere days after the company laid off more than a dozen of our colleagues, including union employees."
Many staffers see it as yet another sign that AI is already having a lasting and damaging effect on the journalism industry.
"This shit is encroaching on real journalism by real people and despite all the attempts to justify it, we know what the end result is," tweeted Kotaku staff writer Kenneth Shepard.
"How can anyone expect to have hope of any kind making it in media when the companies treat you no better than easily replaceable dogs," The Verge video game reporter and former Kotaku writer Ash Parrish wrote.
It'll be interesting to see how this will all play out. G/O staff are known for making their voices heard — so it certainly won't be the last time we'll be hearing about the company's latest decision.
More on AI journalism: Bankrate Posts AI-Generated Article, Deletes It When We Point Out It's Full of Errors
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