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Rolling Stone experiments with AI
Plus, layoffs hit Industry Dive
In digital media, a big part of the job is navigating the tension between trust and innovation. On one hand, you want to protect your brand and avoid projects that might erode trust with your readers. On the other, you must be willing to experiment, to delight your audience and engage them in new ways.
One way to strike this balance is to experiment, but do so quietly. You can roll out a new product without announcing it, or launch a new feature to a subset of your audience. The appeal of this approach is that, in theory, you limit your exposure. You can learn which ideas are good and which are bad before announcing them, and then make investments accordingly.
A downside to this approach is that quiet experiments, if discovered, can sometimes seem like covert operations. Take CNET. Starting last fall, the tech news site began publishing AI-generated explainers with the byline “CNET Money Staff.” It was only by hovering over this byline that readers could see that the piece “was generated using automation technology.” When this experiment came to light, it kicked off a series of critical press and ultimately eroded trust with CNET readers.
Rolling Stone is taking another, more public approach. We learned yesterday that the magazine is launching a series of AI experiments as part of its annual “Future of Music” issue. The issue will include the outlet’s first AI-generated digital cover image, an AI-generated song featuring both Biggie Smalls and Harry Styles, and an AI-generated review of Lil Yachty’s new album. The album review will also include editors notes to help readers understand where the tech fell short (according to Rolling Stone EIC Noah Shachtman: “There was a pileup of cliches.”).
One frame for designing experiments like this is minimizing the chances of losing trust. But another frame is to view experiments as an opportunity to gain trust by bringing audiences along as you explore the opportunities and challenges that new technologies present. Through this second lens, trust and innovation don’t need to be in tension – they can reinforce one another.
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Industry Dive laid off roughly 25 people earlier this week.
The company that owns The Toronto Star is in talks to merge with Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia.
A group of former journalists is launching an early-stage VC fund.
WaPo is providing free access to its site and apps through Thursday.
Thomson Reuters bought the AI legal tech startup Casetext for $650 million.
SiriusXM is shutting down the podcast app Stitcher and encouraging users to switch to its flagship SXM app.
The messaging app Telegram is adding Stories in early July.
Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger announced new parental controls.
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