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

Tag: Sports Illustrated

Troubled SI lays off staff and faces an uncertain future

Sports Illustrated, once among the finest magazines in the country and a model of great narrative journalism, is laying off its entire staff, according to Front Office Sports. SI was recently called out for running sponsored content with fake author profiles generated by artificial intelligence. I doubt this is the end of the road, though. The brand is heavily tarnished at this point, but I can’t imagine that someone won’t want to give it a shot.

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Sports Illustrated, caught running AI content and author profiles, tries to deflect blame

Time-Life co-founder Henry Luce in 1954. Photo via the Library of Congress.

Fake journalism produced by artificial intelligence is quickly devolving into a fiasco. The latest scandal involves Sports Illustrated, once a great magazine that was part of the Time-Life empire, now — well, who knows? It’s owned by something called The Arena Group, whose holdings also include TheStreet and Parade magazine (remember them?), and whose website says the company “combines powerful brands, in areas consumers are passionate about and delivers compelling experiences.” Corporate gobbledygook perfected except for the misplaced comma.

On Monday, Maggie Harrison of Futurism reported that SI had published articles generated by AI and — get this — included bylines and writer profiles that also had been generated by AI. Fake writers producing fake stories, in other words. All we need are fake readers. Harrison wrote: “After we reached out with questions to the magazine’s publisher, The Arena Group, all the AI-generated authors disappeared from Sports Illustrated’s site without explanation.”

SI later posted a message on X/Twitter that almost literally says, No, we did not publish any AI content. What actually happened was that we published AI content. Huh? The message is worth reproducing in full:

We didn’t do it! The third-party content provider did it! Well, all right then. Poynter media analyst Tom Jones, himself a former sports writer, has a lot to say this morning. He does not seem impressed with The Arena Group’s attempt to deflect blame, writing, “The stories in question do not appear to be the traditional sports features we’re all familiar with when it comes to Sports Illustrated. The stories were more along the lines of product features and reviews. For example, one story from 2022 was about the best volleyballs. Not that it makes any difference.” No, it doesn’t.

The real threat coming from AI-produced fake journalism is that bottom-feeders with no interest in quality are going to load up on the stuff, thus harming the reputation of quality news organizations as well. NewsGuard recently conducted a study that found 49 content farms were using material that seemed to be “almost entirely written” by AI. Even in its shrunken form, Sports Illustrated is better than a content farm. Even so, Henry Luce is rolling over in his grave.

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