A week after an AI-generated high school football game recap went viral, Gannett is pausing its use of an artificial intelligence sports writing tool in local outlets, per Axios.
The article in question was a recap of the football game between Ohio schools Westerville North and Westerville Central. The article’s robotic style and lack of personality set off social media as people from all around the sports media world not only ripped it to shreds but also held it up as an example of why this is a bad look for the newspaper industry.
Setting aside the putrid prose here for a second…it sucks so much that these garbage recaps also take important learning opportunities away for writers. My first clips ever were from covering prep FB around Columbus. I'm not sure I'd have this job now without them. https://t.co/TXXiSyNXlN
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownEP) August 21, 2023
The article, which did not include any player names and provided just a bare-bones recap of the game, is part of an ongoing game recap service offered by Lede AI in not just the Dispatch but other Gannett-owned newspapers such as The Tennessean and The Indy Star. It appears that the Dispatch began using the automated articles on August 18.
“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.”
This week, Gannett newspapers like The Tennessean, The Columbus Dispatch, and The Indy Star began using AI to write high school football recap stories. pic.twitter.com/gDUcwuQnjq
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) August 23, 2023
According to their website, “Lede AI writes hundreds of unique news briefs in seconds and publishes them to your website automatically. We use thousands of human-written variations so your content never looks the same and reads beautifully.”
Readers appeared to have a different opinion about Lede AI’s work.
No stringer in the history of our planet has ever written a story this bad. https://t.co/mDFXPNYiAH
— Bryan Curtis (@bryancurtis) August 21, 2023
According to Axios, The Dispatch’s page of ethical principles says that “AI-generated content must be verified for accuracy and factuality before used in reporting.” However, they didn’t receive a response when they asked Gannett if anyone in the newsroom reviewed Lede AI game recaps before they were published.
Had a human checked, they might have noticed one game recap that appeared to have broken code in it (and is still live on The Dispatch website).
“The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday,” reads the article.
Gannett got to this point following several rounds of layoffs that essentially cut its workforce in half since 2019. They also folded ThisWeek Community News, an award-winning Columbus newspaper chain that covered local sports.
AI-generated content isn’t going anywhere, and quite frankly, this kind of article has been popping up for years as local papers trim their staffs. However, while AI might be able to string words together, it lacks the human qualities that make something like a high school football game recap enjoyable to read. And the humans reading it know when they’re being fed useless bullshit.