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Takeaways from the AI controversy at G/O Media
Plus, the FT’s B2B rebrand
The roll-out of AI-generated articles at G/O Media has been rocky, to say the least.
Here’s a quick recap:
In a note to staff, editorial director Merrill Brown announced that the company would experiment with using AI to produce articles. “These features aren’t replacing work currently being done by writers and editors,” he said. “There will be errors, and they’ll be corrected as swiftly as possible.”
The GMG Union responded with a letter: “Our newsrooms have spent decades building trust with audiences – introducing computer-generated garbage undermines our ability to do our jobs, erodes trust in us as journalists, damages our brands, and threatens our jobs.”
Last week, the company published some AI-generated articles across its sites under bylines such as “Gizmodo Bot” and “Deadspin Bot.” The articles included lists such as “The Biggest Summer Blockbusters of 2003: 10 Can't-Miss Movies,” “The 15 Most Valuable Professional Sports Franchises,” and “A Chronological List of Star Wars Movies & TV Shows.”
Staff criticized the pieces, both for factual errors and uninspired writing. (At least two of the articles have since been updated with corrections & revisions.) In the internal company Slack, a note from leadership expressing openness to feedback was met with many thumbs down emojis, wastebasket emojis, and the like.
Takeaways from this episode probably center around approaches to management, as much as AI’s role in journalism. Leadership at G/O Media, which is owned by the private equity firm Great Hill Partners, has had an adversarial relationship with staff for years. In 2019 a slew of Deadspin reporters resigned after being told to stick to sports coverage. In early 2020, 125 staffers opted to cast a vote of no confidence in CEO Jim Spanfeller (who remains in his position today). Without broad buy-in, it’s going to be near impossible for an AI initiative like this to succeed.
Regarding this particular experiment, G/O Media appears to be testing a way to more efficiently generate SEO content. This is a goal shared by many publishers, but publishing articles without in-depth editorial review led to predictable results.
At their best, tools like AI can save time for higher-impact work. Transcription software, for example, is popular inside and outside of newsrooms. Luckily, many publishers are taking a collaborative approach as they weigh opportunities and risks.
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
The FT rebranded its B2B subscription to FT Professional. The FT shared that close to 8,000 organizations subscribe, accounting for 75% of the company’s paying readership, with revenue growing more than 10% per year since 2018.
The NYT’s sports desk will disband, with The Athletic leading its sports coverage. The change came after a letter from sports desk staff complaining about unclear direction. The company plans to “focus even more directly on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large.” Meanwhile, the WSJ profiled Athletic Publisher David Perpich, who aims to make The Athletic profitable by 2025.
More on publishers:
Patrick Soon-Shiong and his family sold the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The National Trust for Local News will buy several newspapers in Maine.
The LA Times launched De Los, a site “created for and by Latinos.”
WaPo entered into a subscription partnership with Verizon.
More on platforms:
Google confirmed a bug that may be reducing traffic from Google News.
Twitch will add a Stories feature and discovery feed.
Comedian Sarah Silverman is suing Meta and OpenAI over copyright infringement.
WaPo named Johanna Mayer-Jones Chief Advertising Officer.
Time appointed Kristen Matzen Chief Communications Officer.
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