G/O Media's vision of the future continues to come into focus. Unfortunately, as it stands, that vision seems increasingly human-free.
To recap: last week, Gizmodo owner G/O Media fired the human employees at the blog's Spanish-language site, Gizmodo Español, replacing those writers and their work — which included original reporting as well as translation work — with an AI tool that translates and republishes Gizmodo's English-language articles. Worse, upon closer inspection, the AI doesn't seem to be particularly good at its new job. The bot's translations, which appear to be free of any human editing process, are plagued with basic formatting errors, punctuation chaos, and even the occasional bit of HTML gore.
But apparently, according to new reporting from Insider, the publisher's AI-powered translation engine is only just getting started.
"We are using an advanced translation service that provides context and intent while running the translations," G/O Media editorial director Merrill Brown told the company's remaining employees in a Wednesday memo, which was shared with Insider by a G/O representative. "This is the first step in our efforts to create local language editions of our journalism. In the coming months we'll see more of our brands published in additional languages. We're confident we'll be bringing new and expanding audiences to our sites. "
"There is a disclaimer explaining our approach and a link to the original article published beneath each translated story," the note continued, adding that "the stories are running without bylines."
At first glance, the "no byline" note feels bizarre. After all, the AI isn't actually writing anything; it mostly seems to function like an automated Google Translate, copying the work of Gizmodo's English-language writers and auto-publishing the translated version to the blog's Spanish site. But in a Thursday thread on Twitter-formerly-X, the Gizmodo Media Group Union explained that the site's writers specifically "objected to having their bylines attached to machine translations" — which seems fair, considering that the translations are embarrassingly bad.
According to the union, however, G/O leaders took the pushback way too far.
"Instead of relying on the talented journalists at Gizmodo Español," reads the thread, "G/O Media has enacted an automation that takes English-language Gizmodo articles, translates them poorly into Spanish, and posts them on Gizmodo Español almost immediately, with no Spanish-language editing."
"Adding insult to injury, when the Gizmodo staff objected to having their bylines attached to machine translations, G/O management removed all bylines from Gizmodo Español," it continues, "even the bylines of the four journalists who were laid off by G/O Media this week."
Adding insult to injury, when the Gizmodo staff objected to having their bylines attached to machine translations, G/O management removed all bylines from Gizmodo Español—even the bylines of the four journalists who were laid off by G/O Media this week.
— GMG Union (@gmgunion) September 6, 2023
Indeed, the grim claim appears to be true. If you scroll back through Gizmodo Español's vast archive, bylines are nowhere to be found. So not only were Gizmodo Español workers fired, but the public accreditation of years of work — according to another post in the union's Thursday X thread, the workers counted about 25 years of G/O employment between them — has been wiped from the web. It doesn't get much colder than that, and if it seemed like G/O didn't value the former Gizmodo Español employees' work before, it certainly does now.
The worst part, though? Per a report from The Daily Beast, a source at the company claims that Gizmodo Español's traffic has "doubled" since it started rolling out the automated translations — another unfortunate proof-of-concept hit for the publisher's execs, who according to the company's employees continue to break promises in favor of an automated future.
"Unfortunately this move to eliminate the Español team represents yet another broken promise from G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller and Editorial Director Merrill Brown," continues the union's X thread, "who have repeatedly said that the company's AI experiments were intended to supplement human writing, not replace it."
We reached out to G/O for comment, but have yet to receive a response.
More on G/O Media's AI efforts: G/O Tells Staff Not to Worry About Everyone Mocking Their Horrible AI Content
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