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Journalismism

G/O Media’s Bot-Written Blogs May Be Unreadable, But At Least They’re Incorrect

A screenshot of Gizmodo Bot's author page, with one bad Star Wars blog

Have you been curious to learn about the most valuable sports franchises in the world? Would you prefer this information to come in the form of a ranked list that is both disordered and incorrect? Are you easily spooked by the noise of a vacuum cleaner, or unfamiliar people walking by your house?

In "The 15 Most Valuable Professional Sports Franchises," published Wednesday on Deadspin, every entry is numbered but still reiterates that the team is ranked at that spot. For instance, the paragraph for the second-ranked Yankees begins like this: "The Yankees are the second most valuable sports franchise in the world, worth an estimated $4.6 billion." That's the level of attention to detail to be expected from the author, "Deadspin Bot."

The blog is not just bland but wrong. The information listed is out of date—the Denver Broncos sold for $4.65 billion last year but are nowhere to be found—and the last four teams are not in order. The list goes from a team worth $2.71 billion to one worth $2.8 billion to one worth $2.6 billion to the final franchise, the Los Angeles Rams, worth $2.9 billion. All estimated, of course.

Meanwhile, "Gizmodo Bot" debuted with "A Chronological List of Star Wars Movies & TV Shows." (The subhed: "From the prequels to the sequels, here's the order to watch the Star Wars saga.") This post was chronologically incorrect. The Clone Wars happened during the Prequel Trilogy, idiot!

"The A.V. Club Bot," at least, appears to have accurately assembled a ranked slideshow of the biggest box-office earners of the year 2003.

These articles were part of G/O Media's new experiment with AI-written blogs, a strategy condemned by the GMG Union for the reasons you'd expect: The posts are shitty, squander the trust of readers, and exist to justify the reduction of jobs for humans. Other outlets have tried this experiment, and it sucks every time. The bulk of the attention comes when a company announces the initiative and when it causes egregious errors. These article-writing bots are plagiarism machines that require more effort to edit and fact-check than any novice writer.

The bot-blog rollout was done without the participation of the editorial staffers at these publications. James Whitbrook, the deputy editor of io9, said no one at his site or at Gizmodo was involved in Gizmodo Bot's work. The GMG union said it was the decision of CEO Jim Spanfeller and the editorial directors in charge, one of whom is on vacation this week.

On Wednesday, Max Tani of Semafor shared a Slack screenshot of someone in G/O management announcing "limited testing of AI-generated content" across four sites. "Regarding feedback: You may spot errors," the message read. "You may have issues with the tone and/or style. I am aware you object to this writ large and that your respective unions have already and will continue to weigh in with objections and other issues. We will learn from this test and respond accordingly." The message had 38 thumbs-down reactions, along with nine wastebasket reactions.

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