By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Mid Hudson News

Another fake murder is reported. This one was generated by AI.

Photo (cc) by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

You wouldn’t think it could happen again — but it did. Mere weeks after a small community news site in New York State reported a murder without bothering to do the due diligence that would have revealed the incident never took place, the same thing has happened in New Jersey. The difference is the role played by artificial intelligence.

At the Mid Hudson News in Newburgh, New York, the fake news was published as a result of human error. Its story was then picked up by the aggregation site NewsBreak, which added a commentary generated by AI lamenting the rise of social media as a factor in such (non-existent) violence.

In New Jersey, a false report of a murder actually originated at NewsBreak, and it appears to have been wholly generated by AI. Eric Conklin of reports:

Police in a New Jersey city are urging the public to ignore a story featured on a news website about a fatal shooting they say was written using artificial intelligence.

The story on [the link now goes to a 404] said a “local resident” was found dead in the 100 block of West Broad Street in Bridgeton on Christmas Day. It further dives into the gun debate in America as communities seek an end to violence….

Police on Wednesday said the story has been circulating on social media, emphasizing an italicized note at the bottom of the text that the piece “includes content assisted by AI tools”

“Nothing even similar to this story occurred on or around Christmas, or even in recent memory for the area they described,” Bridgeton police wrote on their official Facebook page.

Noor Al-Sibai has a good overview at Futurism and observes:

Ultimately, the slipperiness of this faux article’s sourcing speaks to the heart of AI-generated content. Instead of revolutionizing media — or anything else, for that matter — outlet owners who insist on using generative AI instead of human writers have done little more than sow discord in an institution that’s already infamously mistrusted by the public.

Indeed. It also shows that even as local journalists with ethical scruples struggle to be heard above the noise, operators like NewsBreak will continue to take advantage of the crisis in community journalism to crank out fake news for fun and profit. Keep in mind, too, that most of the AI-generated crap that appears on sites like NewsBreak does not rise to the level of a murder that never actually happened, which makes it all the more difficult to parse fiction from reality. Caveat emptor.

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A murder that didn’t happen, reported by a news outlet that didn’t check

This is about as bizarre a media story as you can find. On Dec. 4, a small digital news outlet called the Mid Hudson News reported that a man had been fatally shot in Newburgh, New York. It turned out to be fake news, but not before it was picked up by the aggregation site Newsbreak — which, in turn, published a commentary written by artificial intelligence falsely blaming the incorrect story on the rise of social media.

The owner of the Mid Hudson News, a former New York state senator, Mike Martucci, and the founder and editor, Hank Gross, blame it all on the city of Newburgh, citing its policy of funneling all media comment through a spokesman who they claim doesn’t get back to them in a timely manner.

The story is laid out in a Dec. 21 article in the Times Union of Albany, written by reporters Lana Bellamy and Phillip Pantuso.

Incredibly, the Mid Hudson News’ story, headlined “Man says his cousin is shot dead,” is still online. An editor’s note appears at the bottom: “Our earlier story about an alleged incident in Newburgh was incorrectly reported as there was no incident involving a shooting of any kind in the City of Newburgh.” As you can see, the report is based on the word of someone named Major Bradley, who heard from relatives the next day that Bolder had been fatally shot. In other words, not only did the News publish a one-source story, but that source had no first-hand knowledge about the murder. Then again, there was no murder.

Gross told the Times Union that there was, in fact, a second source who he did not cite in his report, and that he chose to go ahead and publish after city spokesman Mike Neppl failed to respond in a timely manner. “You’re lucky if you get a response, and if you do, more often than not it’s not timely,” Gross was quoted as saying. “How long do you wait?”

Now, there’s not one word I can offer in defense of the Mid Hudson News. But according to the Times Union, Neppl and the city of Newburgh really do have some issues when it comes to dealing with the press; among other things, city officials have clashed with a television reporter over their apparent refusal to provide crime data.

And despite Neppl’s claim that the city’s policy of funneling all media responses through one spokesperson is common, the Times Union reported that “few if any municipalities in the Times Union’s coverage area, large or small, have a similar requirement for all non-elected officials.”

The whole tale is just astonishing.

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