Artificial Intelligence: The Final Nail in Journalism’s Coffin?

Once upon a time, newspapers and magazines were physical products you flipped through as you read them—not microelectronic cybernetic versions of themselves that you squinted at on a cell phone or other hand-held wireless device.

You could pick up, fold, and stick newspapers and magazines into a briefcase or backpack.

And, of course, when you finished reading them, you could line your birdcage with them, use them as drop cloths when you painted a room in your house, or wad them up as packing paper when you shipped something breakable.

The point is that newspapers and magazines were once tangible material objects and had a practical afterlife.  And don’t forget the black ink that sometimes covered your fingertips after you read a newspaper or magazine.

Ah, yes. Those were the days.

Then came The Internet with its social media platforms, blogs, and myriad electronic databases. Gradually, newspapers and magazines began adapting to this new cyber-verse and created “E-versions” of themselves. Their physical editions grew less and less sustainable as new and younger generations of news and information consumers preferred to use mobile E-devices to access news and information.

Those of us who toiled in the nation’s newsrooms began to realize that a sea change was underway. Journalism—especially journalism that was print-based—would never be the same. It might not even survive.

Fortunately, for journalistic luddites like me, the death of SOME print-based newspapers and magazines was greatly exaggerated.

I still get the Los Angeles Times and the Riverside Press-Enterprise delivered to my door every morning. I can still wash the printer’s ink from my fingertips after a session of leafing and reading.

Such a joy!

But that’s not the end of this little story. No, not by a long shot.

Today, we have AI—otherwise known as Artificial Intelligence and THAT, my friends, is a whole new kettle of rotten fish, as my Danish grandfather used to say.

If you thought The Internet, social media platforms, and journalist-wannabes (aka bloggers) were killing journalism as we once knew it, AI might just be the final nail in the coffin.

Look at what happened at the iconic magazine we all know as Sports Illustrated.

Sports Illustrated is embroiled in a major scandal after it has been accused of running articles written by artificial intelligence.

The magazine was founded in 1954 and once had over three million subscribers. It was considered the gold standard in exceptional sports journalism until it was outed recently by the science and technology news publication Futurism for publishing articles written by fake A.I. authors. Futurism’s investigation found that these fake A.I. authors even had headshots and biographies generated by artificial intelligence.

The Arena Group, the holding company which acquired Sports Illustrated in 2019, denies the allegations. The group insists the articles in question were commercial content sourced from third-party advertising company AdVon Commerce.

Sports Illustrated has been in financial trouble for the past few years. In 2019, half of the newsroom was laid off. Earlier this year, another round of layoffs hit the magazine shortly after the Arena Group’s CEO and chairman, Ross Levinsohn, announced the company’s decision to incorporate AI in its editorial production.

How the mighty have fallen.

I remember when S.I. (as its loyal subscribers knew Sports Illustrated) boasted articles written by literary giants like William Faulkner, Robert Frost, and John Steinbeck. Then, there was its stable of gonzo journalists like Curry Kirkpatrick and Frank Deford, whose stories jumped off the magazine’s pages.

If you want to see what I am talking about, read this Curry Kirkpatrick story about Shaquille O’Neal when O’Neal was THE best basketball center in college basketball at LSU. Click on the link below.

Sports journalism at its finest.

Then, there was the piece where Frank Deford took Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay to task for moving his team to Indianapolis—an unforgivable slap in the face to the Colts’ jilted fan base.

“It’s quite amazing,” Deford wrote. “A man who could screw up professional football in Baltimore would foul the water at Lourdes or flatten the beer in Munich.”

You won’t find that kind of journalism in today’s AI-produced monthly E-version of S.I. Instead, you will find stories penned by non-human “journalists” who have never watched a football or basketball game, a tennis match, or even a tidily-winks competition but who will write S.I. a story anyway.

Meanwhile, feeling the harsh winds of blowback from angry and disappointed subscribers, a spokesperson for The Arena Group has attempted some cleanup of the scandal. The robot-penned articles have been deleted, the spokesperson said.

“They were created by AdVon, a third-party company who had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy — actions we don’t condone — and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership,” the spokesperson said, forgetting to mention that those “writers” were AI robots.

Sports Illustrated is not the only publication puttering around with AI. Last January, BuzzFeed’s CEO, Jonah Peretti, announced the website would integrate AI into its content and make it a part of its core business.

BuzzFeed has since published AI-written quizzes and travel guides – a practice the company is still experimenting with.

These moves by Sports Illustrated, BuzzFeed, and other news and media organizations have set off a wave of anxiety in journalism circles. The fear is that an upsurge in so-called “dystopian content farms” will create more trouble within the already beleaguered and withering news media sector—one that is struggling with declining trust and credibility as journalism moves further and further away from trustworthy and unbiased reporting to more subjective and opinion-based coverage.

There is little doubt that AI is more cost-efficient when compared with human reporters, writers, and content creators. As a result, AI is seen as a potential and tempting solution to the financial troubles plaguing the news media industry.

However, when news organizations cease their responsibility to provide truthful, honest, and unbiased news produced by professional “human” journalists in favor of news created by banks of unpaid AI robots, we will all witness journalism’s final and irrevocable dirt nap.

And that, my friends, may spell the end of our democratic republic.


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About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

2 thoughts on “Artificial Intelligence: The Final Nail in Journalism’s Coffin?”

  1. You and I are totally on the same wavelength about the loss of integrity in journalism AI has wrought. If journalism has kept its objectivity and told facts rather than editorializing on every page, it may have stood a chance. Sadly, no.

    • It’s so difficult for me to watch the demise of journalistic credibility as newsrooms coast to coast abandon reporting that is honest, fair, and responsible in favor of socialist propaganda. I never thought I would see this day.


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