Our fight against AI continues, but in some cases humans are no better.

Merriam Webster has released its 2023 "word of the year" AUTHENTIC. It’s nothing to laugh about in a year troubled by worries of AI taking over creative and fact-finding pursuits. The WGA and SAG both went on strike with both unions having major sticking points in their contracts withuse of AI.


A few weeks ago, in an interview for the podcast ‘Pardon MyTake’, Charissa Thompson who is a host for Fox Sports and Amazon Prime’s NFL coverage, stated about her time as a sideline reporter:
           “I’ve said this before, so I haven’t been fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again: I would make up the report sometimes, because…the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime, or it was too late and I didn’t want to screw up the report……So I was like, ‘I’m just gonna make this up.’”

She has since walked back the statement saying that she “never lied” and that “Working in media I understand how important my words are and I chose the wrong words to describe the situation.” Now, I did not listen to the episode of Pardon My Take and I’m not super familiar with Thompson, but I do work in media and there was an uproar among many journalists when this news first broke. I love sports, I take it as seriously as a heart attack, but I know damn well there are many more important things happening I the world, there arej ournalists dying every day in Gaza, in Ukraine, in Mexico and they do not have the benefit of “making it up.” We are trusting them, there’s a reason the press is called “the fourth estate,” the truth-tellers and fact-finders are important to any society. So, what does this say about who we are trusting and why? It’s also worth noting that Erin Andrews, also a Fox Sports reporter, former ESPN reporter, dancing with the stars contestant and later co-host,  and co-host of the podcast ‘Calm Down’ withThompson, has previously alluded to the same type of laissez faire attitude with regard to sideline reporting. After the incident with Thompson, Andrews’ publicist released a statement that Andrews "prioritized accuracy in her reporting throughout her career." We can all understand a misplaced word or phrase, even an embellishment to add color commentary, but Thompson’s emphasis on mentioning that she hadn’t “been fired for it” leads me to believe she knew exactly what she was saying on the podcast and only after the backlash arrived did she have remorse or even recognition that she was doing something unethical.

           About a week or so later Sports Illustrated was called out for publishing articles(product reviews it seems) that were published under fake author names and AI profile photos. The initial report came from ‘Futurism’ and during the course of the report that came out Sports Illustrated began deleting some of these articles. Futurism stated that the headshots of the “reporters” wereAI-generated that they were able to find for sale on digital marketplaces.Sports Illustrated’s operating company has since stated that these since deleted product review articles were created out of house by a subcontractor called ‘AdVon.’This is not the first time AdVon has been in trouble for similar issues. According to CNN, back in October “Reviewed’ a Gannett-owned site that, as you may have guessed,t ests and reviews products, came under fire for seemingly the exact same thing-articles published by authors who didn’t exist. The Sports Illustrated Union said:

           If true,these practices violate everything we believe in about journalism…We deplore being associated with something so disrespectful to our readers.

It begs the question, if AdVon had already been criticized once for these actions, why would anyone think they’d change their practices and continue to hire them as contractors? My guess: because the people who are often in charge of major media companies have little to no experience in media or journalism, they are often MBA types who might be swell with dollars and cents but have no business in this industry and to save a buck they hire a company that knowingly circumvents ethics. And the folks who DO have media experience? Well they’re being pressured to sell more copy, drive more clicks, catch more impressions, and do so without spending any additional dollars on…well you know silly things like staff.

           These two blips are perhaps not a HUGE deal to many people, but to those in the industry it’s a harbinger of things to come. This concept that companies can get away with not paying humans to do jobs, is likely a piece of why folks like Charissa Thompson are willing to behave the way they do, fear. If a robot can create more output than a person (even if it is inaccurate but generates clicks) what is to stop these companies from firing all their highly skilled journalists, editors, operators etc.? What Thompson did leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and a desire to never be associated with her type of journalism, but so does AdVon, and the people willing to contract them. If people are becoming willing to behave unethically for fear that they’ll be replaced by a machine, where does that leave us as media producers? And where does it leave the media consumers who put their trust in fair journalism? This IS a huge deal, and I imagine we will be seeing much more of it in the coming months. When the WGA went on strike in the spring, the striking writers did not include news writers, and while the WGA East members who worked for broadcast, cable and streaming news stood in solidarity with those writer son entertainment and scripted contracts there were concerns about many of the same issues the striking workers were picketing- use of AI being a MAJOR point.

           So how do we gird ourselves from “alternative facts?” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787 to “Question with boldness even the existence of a god…” So yes, question everything, but don’t doubt that you’ll be called a conspiracy theorist. The first people we mock these days are the ones spouting online that they “did their own research” because in many cases they are, to put it politely, a bit unbalanced. Their instinct of distrust though, is one I cannot argue with, their research methods, I can. Do what you must; trust that there are still good, hard-working, truth-seeking people in the media. But, know where to go to find more sources, and question things that don’t pass the smell test, and please support the people who are out in the world trying to do their jobs (whatever jobs they may be)correctly, ethically, and who are being beaten down by the use of robots and by greed.

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