Dispatch pauses AI sports writing program
The Columbus Dispatch paused use of an artificial intelligence sports writing tool after a Westerville football recap faced criticism on social media that went viral last week.
Why it matters: Newsrooms are increasingly experimenting with generative AI tools, but must grapple with ethical challenges while still maintaining public trust, Axios' Sara Fischer and Ryan Heath write.
State of play: For several days this month, the Dispatch and other Gannett-owned newspapers published dozens of LedeAI game recaps based on simple box score data.
- One such Dispatch article from Aug. 18 was blasted on social media for its robotic style, lack of player names and use of awkward phrases like "close encounter of the athletic kind."
- "I feel like I was there!" The Athletic senior columnist Jon Greenberg posted sarcastically.
The big picture: News publishers that use AI typically do so under the editorial supervision of humans.
- The Dispatch's page of ethical principles states, "AI-generated content must be verified for accuracy and factuality before used in reporting."
Yes, but: A Gannett spokesperson did not respond to an emailed question about whether its newsrooms reviewed LedeAI recaps before publication.
The intrigue: In a Dispatch soccer write-up from Aug. 19, AI failed to generate team names and delivered a faulty first sentence.
- "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.
What they're saying: "This local AI sports effort is being paused," a Gannett spokesperson tells Axios.
- "In addition to adding hundreds of reporting jobs across the country, we are experimenting with automation and AI to build tools for our journalists and add content for our readers."
- "We are continually evaluating vendors as we refine processes to ensure all the news and information we provide meets the highest journalistic standards."
Between the lines: This is the first high school football season played since Gannett shuttered ThisWeek Community News, a suburban Columbus newspaper chain that produced award-winning local sports journalism.
- Some staffers were folded into the Dispatch's sports desk, Gannett told Axios at the time.
Of note: Axios does not use generative AI to create content, except where the point is to show readers what the technology can or can't do. In that case, the AI-generated material is clearly labeled.
The bottom line: "The future is now: Journalism without journalists," University of Maine journalism professor Michael Socolow posted on X above a list of AI-generated high school football stories published in four newspapers, including the Dispatch.
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