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.