Get me rewrite.

One of the stories in journalism these days is about artificial intelligence, and what it’s doing to the industry, as news organizations race to their ultimate goal of having no actual employees (but still lots of readers/viewers).

My alma mater, the Columbus Dispatch, was embarrassed when the AI it was using to write high-school sports stories (thereby confirming the silent opinion of scores of newsroom observers of the sports department, ha ha just kidding not you Kirk but definitely that one guy whose name I forget) glitched so badly it was turning out stuff like:

“The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday,” the story reads.

May I just say that I would buy, and wear the shit out of, a T-shirt that reads “Go [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]],” especially if it came in Dri-Fit. Mistakes like that never would have seen the light of day in the olden days, but apparently this one did, because AI not only wrote that sentence, it published it, too. Oopsie.

Today, The Detroit News had a great story about a guy in Port Huron, the sort who would have once been described as a “gadfly,” who has set up an entire local-“news” website written by AI, right down to fake photos of the non-existent reporters whose bylines appear on the stories.

Here’s “Dwight Dixon:”

And here’s “Jurgen Diggler:”

Can’t forget “Stephanie Love:”

I would link to The Detroit News story, but it’s paywalled, because real reporters have to eat and pay rent. But I’ll summarize the best I can: The owner of this site was hard to find, and was traced through the administrators of a Facebook page connected to another publication, which was eventually rebranded as the Blue Water Current, and it sounds as though everyone involved is a real piece of work:

One of the administrators of the Current’s Facebook page is Kevin Lindke, who works at Blue Water Healthy Living. Smith [owner of Blue Water Healthy Living] said he hired Lindke in June because he liked how the self-appointed community watchdog kept tabs on public officials.

Lindke routinely files public records requests and scours government documents and court transcripts. He sometimes breaks news on his popular Facebook page before the local newspaper.

He isn’t above ad hominem attacks, referring to frequent targets as “Twerp,” “Miss Piggy” and “Lying Little Munchkin.” He disparages public officials daily as drunks, philanderers and pedophile sympathizers.

(May I just say? We waste a lot of time talking about whether we’re courting civil war or whatever, but if someone called me or anyone else a pedophile without producing a rap sheet to back it up, I’d be on their doorstep with an axe, not hiring that person. So I’m already inclined to think everyone in this story is not what you’d call quality folks.)

Lindke says his goal is to be a “trusted and respected local news source,” but so far it’s not going well, as the AI is producing copy like this:

“The occurrence of the storm on July 20th, a date forever marked in our collective memory, bore witness to the unwelcomed presence of golf-ball sized hail.”

Also, Lindke referred to his “staff” thusly:

“We’ve assembled a top-tier team of writers,” he wrote on Aug. 4.

Anyway, I don’t want to bite the whole News story. I visited Blue Water Current and found a story about the death of Jimmy Buffett. Here’s the top:

I screenshot it because another thing in the DN story is, this guy pulls down stories without explanation. The rest of it doesn’t improve, but it’s a good reminder that AI only regurgitates what it’s learned by reading human-written prose, and hoo-boy is this a good reminder of how shitty that can be. Besides that “iconic” and dumb alliteration in the lead, I also spotted “outpouring,” “arguably,” and this kicker:

In the wake of his passing, one thing is clear: Jimmy Buffett’s music and spirit will continue to inspire and bring joy to generations to come. So, here’s to Jimmy Buffett, the master of chill. Raise your margarita in his honor.

In other words, we have taught AI all this stuff. And people think great writing doesn’t matter anymore.

Posted at 4:15 pm in Media, Popculch |

24 responses to “Get me rewrite.”

  1. David C said on September 6, 2023 at 4:39 pm

    AI seems to be this year’s self-driving car. AI can’t tell the difference between nothing and the back end of a fire engine either.

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  2. Sherri said on September 6, 2023 at 4:43 pm

    I’m really sad. In the old days, the syntax for the generic replacement would have been $WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT, which just looks so much cleaner.

    We’re rapidly approaching the point where the training data for all these LLMs is going to be so corrupted with the output of all these LLMs that really weird shit is going to happen. This may be the fastest boom/bust AI cycle ever.

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  3. tajalli said on September 6, 2023 at 5:06 pm

    The [ ] indicate the AI is probably using a dictionary system to organize a suite of variables to be applied to a re-usable basic text. Brain-dead troll Reporter enters current data using a GUI and bingo! news article.

    That t-shirt is available from “Create Your Own Custom T-Shirt” websites everywhere. Owned by the AI running our Matrix. 😉

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  4. 4dbirds said on September 6, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    I use AI to write and troubleshoot code I use on a website I maintain. I don’t plop the code it gives me in and forget about it, I test it to make sure it is displaying correctly. It has been a help to me and has cut down on my research time.

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  5. Sherri said on September 6, 2023 at 6:19 pm

    AI, unlike crypto, actually has some useful functions. But for writing, whether code or prose, it takes careful management. It reminds me of a coder I once worked with. He worked really hard and wrote lots of code, but if you didn’t stay right on top of him, he would write a bunch of bad code in a weird direction. With careful management and oversight, he was useful, but you had to watch him constantly.

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  6. Jeff Gill said on September 6, 2023 at 10:15 pm

    Sherri, thank you for the D&D story.

    Apologies to Deborah & Little Bird for not being sociable on my hurtling trip through your neck of the woods: but Plaza Cafe’s French toast would be my Death Row last request.

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  7. alex said on September 6, 2023 at 11:47 pm

    I haven’t even bothered to read any Jimmy Buffett drivel because it all looks so trite. Jurgen Diggler doesn’t know it but he just wrote what would have been a perfect cover story for the Onion this week.

    Jurgen Diggler. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it sounds subconsciously naughty.

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  8. Jim said on September 7, 2023 at 5:09 am

    Not forgetting that AI also stands for Artificial Insemination .

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  9. ROGirl said on September 7, 2023 at 5:20 am

    The main character in Boogie Nights was Dirk Diggler. Is Jurgen a porn star?

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    • nancy said on September 7, 2023 at 8:55 am

      First cousin.

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  10. Icarus said on September 7, 2023 at 10:26 am

    AI is only getting better and better. The kinks will be worked out.

    For instance, a few years ago, I could ask Alexa to play some TV show on a streaming service, but it could only do so if there was no ambiguity. If two services had the same show, the TV would just “spin”.

    Now it brings up a menu with choices. Eventually, it will realize you are on Episode X of Seasons Y and continue.

    That’s why I always say Thank You, Alexa. In the hope that our AI overlords will be more benevolent.

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  11. Jason T. said on September 7, 2023 at 10:37 am

    I looked at the Blue Water Current and I feel substantially dumber. Also slightly dirty, like I need to shower.

    After a few months, he’s got a fairly active Facebook group, with 2,200 people following it. After 13 years, our online newspaper — which pays real human reporters with real money — has 5,800 followers. It does make me wonder: What the hell is the point? Why bust your butt to put out information when you can just let an AI spew out glurge?

    People don’t really know the difference between propaganda and news, or between advertising and news, or between whatever the frick the “Blue Water Current” is and news.

    Oh, they say they want local news. But they also say they want healthy food, and yet 7-Elevens are full of Funyuns and Ho-Hos, not apples and granola.

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  12. Jeff Gill said on September 7, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    Y’all gotta read this; some of you might have joined in the original online fiesta around her original post. We are so pleased to have her on the team at Denison, too!

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  13. Jeff Gill said on September 7, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    And if you haven’t subscribed already, you all would enjoy this one, too; writers especially.

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  14. Jeff Borden said on September 7, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    My wife kept her maiden name. Big deal, right? My parents were cool with it, but any mail sent by Johanna’s mom was addressed to Mrs. Jeff Borden. It always made us chuckle.

    One of my FB pals posted a chart showing ‘Murica ranks 51st in literacy worldwide. A staggeringly large number of our fellow citizens read at the 6th grade level…or worse. I think that explains a great deal.

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  15. Sherri said on September 7, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    My husband did offer to go to a neutral third name, but I didn’t feel like having that fight with his family (he was the only child of an only son). I changed my name to his because I didn’t like my family name much, didn’t like my family much, and was already in enough battles with my mom without adding another to the list. At least everyone can pronounce Nichols. My family name was Menees; I had a professor spend the entire quarter calling me Ms. Menace.

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  16. Jason T. said on September 7, 2023 at 1:39 pm

    Sherri, any relation to the long-time editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette? I was a big fan and miss his work.

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  17. Baboomska McGeesk said on September 7, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    Do any of you read the writers’ blog “Writer Beware”?

    Asks the question: “Dear author: Did you really write that novel or was it machine-made?”

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  18. brian stouder said on September 7, 2023 at 1:52 pm

    Sherri, if your husband’s first name is Dennis, that could’a been good! (or Red, for that matter) One advantage to a last name like mine, back in the old days, was when we got a call (on the one phone in the house, on the wall in the kitchen), if they asked for ‘Mister Stowder’ (instead of ‘Mister Stewder’) , you knew it was a junk call, and could interject “Not interested!” and hang up.

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  19. Julie Robinson said on September 7, 2023 at 2:11 pm

    My birth name is Pigott and no one can spell or pronounce it correctly. Still, I wrestled with the idea of changing or hyphenating it.

    About a year after we married I had to renew my driver’s license and finally decided then.

    If I had stayed in my hometown area, where my family was well-known, the decision might make have been different.

    The unanticipated downside is that there are a LOT of Robinsons out there and it’s made for some mixups.

    I haven’t asked if our future DIL will be changing her name. It’s between the two of them and I’m fine with whatever they decide. She’s an only and well established in her career, so I can see why she’d want to stay the course.

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  20. Sherri said on September 7, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    Jason, not to my knowledge, though I did get asked that when I moved to Pittsburgh. I was a subscriber to the Post-Gazette and obviously noticed his name on the editorial cartoons.

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  21. Snarkworth said on September 7, 2023 at 3:03 pm

    I considered taking my husband’s name but decided I don’t look like a Gary.

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  22. Jason T. said on September 7, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    Julie, the real estate agency we used to sell and buy our last two houses has the same name as your maiden name. (It’s named after the founder, who I think is now retired.)

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  23. Kevin said on October 29, 2023 at 3:27 am

    Next time you should read the DN article more carefully.

    I don’t pull stories, nor was I hard to find. I was also not in control of the site for the first couple months of its existence. That was all very clear in the article that you struggled to comprehend.

    This is the problem with established “journalists ” like you. You’re lazy and lack actual motivation to write accurate pieces.

    And the fact that we have The Detroit News and you weighing in on our organization speaks volumes.

    Lastly, Jurgen is a very naughty boy.

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