Writers at USA Today-owned site accuse it of using AI-generated articles

The incident comes two months after Gannett paused its AI sports writing program.
The headquarters of Gannett and the USA TODAY Network in McLean, VA. Credit: USA TODAY

In August, Gannett, which owns USA Today, received unwanted attention for the embarrassing launch of its artificial intelligence (AI) sports writing program.

But while Gannett paused the program shortly after its launch — and the ensuing coverage of it — it appears the company might be back in the AI business.

As detailed by The Washington Post, writers at the USA Today-owned website Reviewer are accusing the site of using AI-generated articles. Staffers at the website, which focuses on shopping reviews, said they noticed overly generic articles with bylines from writers they had never heard of being published on the website last Friday.

Per The Post:

Not only were Reviewed staffers unfamiliar with the bylines on the stories — names like “Breanna Miller” and “Avery Williamson” — they were unable to find evidence of writers by those names on LinkedIn or any professional websites.

Reviewed’s employees, who are unionized through the NewsGuild of New York, allege that the articles are a covert attempt by parent company Gannett to undermine workers, at a time when many publishers are experimenting with AI content to cut costs.

The articles in question included obvious signs of AI, including similar templates and generic phrasing. The appearance of the articles came weeks after the Reviewer staff staged a one-day walkout to demand management negotiate a new contract.

Gannett denied the use of AI in these articles to The Post, but conceded that the articles — many of which have since been deleted — “did not meet our affiliate standards.” The company said that the articles came as the result of a deal with a marketing firm to generate paid search engine traffic.

“We expect all our vendors to comply with our ethical standards and have been assured by the marketing agency the content was NOT AI generated,” a Gannett spokesperson told The Post.

Curiously, the company responsible for the articles, AdVon Commerce, is open about its use of AI And while a Gannett spokesperson pointed to the LinkedIn bio of one of the writers of the articles as evidence that the articles were created by real people, that writer’s LinkedIn bio touts his experience in “polishing AI generative text.”

Intentionally or not, there appears to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests that AI played some sort of role in these articles. And while the use of AI for many media outlets is likely a matter of not “if” but “when,” this marks at least the second time Gannett has shown it still isn’t ready to deploy the technology.

[The Washington Post]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.