Late last month, we reported that venerable magazine Sports Illustrated had been publishing commerce articles bylined by nonexistent writers with AI-generated profile pictures.
The revelation sparked a storm of media coverage and outrage from the magazine's staff. The week after our story ran, Sports Illustrated publisher The Arena Group sacked two top executives, claiming the departures had nothing to do with the AI story.
And yet. There's now been another major shakeup, with The Arena Group announcing Monday afternoon that its board of directors has terminated the employment of its CEO, Ross Levinsohn.
"Effective immediately, Ross Levinsohn will be leaving the company and his role as CEO," wrote Grady Tripp, the company's senior vice president of people, in an email to staff. "This follows the recent departure of three senior executives last week." A press release also went out to business news wires — discrete with this news, they are not.
Manoj Bharga, the founder of the energy drink brand 5-hour Energy and majority investor of The Arena Group, will be joining as a temporary CEO. During a meeting about the termination of the execs last week, Bharga made headlines for lecturing staff to "stop doing dumb stuff" and saying the "amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering." He also outlawed Powerpoint presentations.
After our initial story, The Arena Group issued a statement explaining that the articles with the AI-generated headshots had been provided by a contractor called AdVon Commerce. It also deleted all the articles by fake authors, yet disputed the claim by one of our sources that the articles themselves had been AI-generated as well as the headshots.
Neither Tripp's email nor a press release mentioned the AI scandal. An Arena Group representative declined to say whether the firing had anything to do with the AI story, saying in an email that the company had "nothing further to add to the company's prior statements regarding AI or terminations."
Levinsohn has a long history in media C-suites, but is perhaps best known in media circles for taking a leave of absence from Tronc when it emerged that he had settled several sexual harassment suits at previous employers. He was eventually cleared and returned to the workplace.
"We understand that change can be challenging, but it is also a necessary catalyst for progress," Tripp wrote. "Our commitment to making Arena a successful and profitable company remains steadfast. We believe that these and other changes will contribute to the growth and success of Arena for the benefit of all stakeholders, including our valued customers, shareholders, and employees."
Disclosure: Futurism's parent company, Recurrent Ventures, previously worked with AdVon in 2022 via its partnership to distribute select content on third-party e-commerce platforms. This content was written by Recurrent’s contributors. Presently, Recurrent maintains a business relationship with them to test Commerce content internationally for select brands (of which Futurism is not one). AdVon content has never been published on Futurism or any of Recurrent's websites.
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