The latest journalism outlet to put the pause on AI-generated content is Gannett, parent company of hundreds of local newspapers across the country including the Arizona Republic, Austin-American Statesman and the Columbus Dispatch among many more.
(Disclosure: I was an employee of Gannett via the Indianapolis Star.)
A number of papers had begun using generative AI for local high school sports briefs based on box scores using a tool called LedeAI, Axios reported.
Even when things went right, the briefs weren’t great. But often things went wrong. Social media users noted that odd phrases like “close encounters of the athletic kind” cropped up in story after story — a phrase that doesn’t make sense to begin with but is even worse when repeated. And while the ethical standards of papers like the Columbus Dispatch say that “AI-generated content must be verified for accuracy and factuality before used in reporting,” Axios reported that in at least one case, a story was published that had clear placeholders for “[[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]].”
That story has still not been corrected as of this writing.
A Gannett spokesperson told Axios that, “This local AI sports effort is being paused,” touting that they are adding hundreds of reporting jobs and continuing to experiment with AI and vendors.
Why it matters
Like most industries, journalism is trying to figure out how to fit AI into its workflow. Unlike some other industries, they’re often doing it in a very public way where failure is immediately evident.
We’ve seen similar cases with CNET and Gizmodo. But Gannett, with its plethora of local newspapers, depends more heavily on reader trust than any of those digital-only outlets. Trust is a fragile thing just now in the news industry, and while more Americans say they trust local news more than national news, that’s damning with faint praise: 42% trust their community news versus 23% for national, according to a Gallup survey.
Missteps like this can damage trust, far outweighing the incremental benefit of a small high school sports story. Some may point to it to support their belief that news can’t be trusted; even supporters of local news may be disillusioned and wonder why they’d spend subscription dollars to support a robot.
The PR perils are clear: AI must be meticulously overseen by humans before it reaches the public. If you don’t have the resources to do that every time, you don’t have the resources to use AI.
Keep this in mind even as ChatGPT rolls out a new Enterprise subscription tier.
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