The CEO's promise that "AI will never replace journalism" is starting to ring extra hollow.

Outgoing Humans

Earlier this month, Arena Group, which owns magazines including Men's Journal and Sports Illustrated, announced that it'd start publishing AI-generated articles. Its CEO and chairman Ross Levinsohn, however, vowed that "AI will never replace journalism."

Sounds like that's not going so great. Continuing a years-long cutbacks campaign, Sports Illustrated has been hit with another round of devastating layoffs affecting over a dozen workers.

"Hello! I've been laid off from [SI]. Not great!" tweeted Chris Almeida, a former editor for the magazine.

"After seven and a half years of writing about the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB, LPGA, World Cup, Olympics and more, I, too, have been laid off by Sports Illustrated this morning," rejoined Alex Prewitt, a former senior writer.

According to an internal memo obtained by Awful Announcing, Arena Group has laid off a sizable 17 employees and created 12 openings to "reflect the new needs of the SI business." (Something tells us those "new needs" might involve accommodating the generative AI the parent company has been brandishing at Men's Journal.)

"Today is a day of change in our Sports business," the memo reads. "We are restructuring our Sports Illustrated group to reflect how consumers engage with us, and how we address the needs of our partners and audience."

Following Suit

It appears Sports Illustrated is following in the footsteps of CNET, a once-esteemed tech site that was caught secretively churning out error riddled AI-generated articles after rounds of quiet layoffs.

And on the accuracy front, Arena Group's AI-guided dreck isn't doing any better. Futurism, with the help of a medical expert, found that its very first AI article for Men's Journal, titled "What All Men Should Know About Low Testosterone," contained at least 18 factual errors, despite the authoritative tone of its synthesized prose. Not what you'd want out of something that's supposed to be giving health advice to the site's vast readership.

In response, the article was hastily and extensively rewritten to account for the inaccuracies. Some still slipped through the cracks.

That didn't seem to bother Arena, though. A spokesperson from the group stated in a statement provided to Futurism that the company was "confident in the articles."

While Sports Illustrated itself is yet to make use of a generative AI for its stories — at least in a way that's disclosed to readers — it seems likely that it's only a matter of time before it's forced to. Arena, after all, has just laid down the hammer on the size of its staff, and with other outlets including Buzzfeed already blazing ahead with AI content, the industry at large looks teed up to be overrun with bots.

After the publication of this article, the Arena Group asked that this statement be added:

The Arena Group announced last week that it had partnered with two AI companies, to start exploring how AI can contribute to workflow efficiencies at some of its publishing brands. We were clear that AI will never replace journalists or editors. In fact, the articles in question were compiled from articles by journalists published well before The Arena Group purchased Men’s Journal and Men’s Fitness in December 2022. The AI tools retrieved the reporting from these stories exclusively from the Men's Fitness archives, from source materials produced years before by the previous owner – so the content criticized by one expert was the product of journalists. Not a machine. 

We’ll continue to experiment with AI software to help mine our vast archive and create more productive editing workflows but not to generate new content that isn’t based on articles from the archives. There are three parts of that process: how the AI tools find and amalgamate the original content, the editing of that content by a human journalist, and the substance of the original content the AI identified. The skepticism raised about this content pertains almost exclusively to the latter two issues. 

While our ongoing test process has produced learnings that will allow us to continue to refine our use of AI tools, we acknowledge that experts in this field will disagree on the diagnoses and treatments included in the original article. Science and diagnosis are complicated and rarely agreed upon, but the sensational nature of the reporting about this experiment could be equally scrutinized for being disingenuous and misinformed. 

Regarding Sports Illustrated, you took the false premise included in your first story and doubled down on it with opinions and inaccuracies. If you read some of the published stories this week, they noted that Sports Illustrated is restructuring. While we are saying goodbye to 17 individuals, we are in the process of hiring 12 more. Your assertion that this is the beginning of some attempt to replace writers with AI is categorically false. Again, we have been clear that AI will never replace journalists or editors. Your reporting is inaccurate and drives a false narrative.

More on published AI content: BuzzFeed's AI Quizzes Seem Kind of Broken, Honestly

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