The Sports Illustrated AI Debacle: A Reflection on the State of Sports Journalism

Will Leitch

My Opinion: What the Sports Illustrated AI Debacle Tells Us

Technically, the details in this report are true. But of course none of this actually happened, no real baseball was played, and no human was hired to write a story about it. The “game story” is completely AI generated. And guess what? That’s fine. If you asked me, a sports journalist for nearly two decades, to write a three-paragraph report on these simulated games, it might look something like this. Although I’d like to think I’d get better quotes.

The point is: The conventions of sports journalism – who, what, when, where and how – are now so established that they can be used by a robot unusual can be easily imitated, so well that a silly baseball simulation game can do it in certain contexts just as well as I can. So it wasn’t particularly surprising when I did this week in a fantastic article from Futurism learned that Sports Illustrated has been publishing fake, AI-generated articles for months – “written” by non-existent people with AI-generated images and biographies.

The magazine – it’s probably not accurate, Sports Illustrated according to the draconian cuts with the staff to call it a “magazine” but I’m honestly not sure what else to call it – deleted the articles immediately when Futurism brought attention to them, which, as a human writer I can attest, bothers the author much less , if the author is a robot. The reactions were overwhelming and ranged from a real (human) revolt by the workforce to an industry-wide lament over what has become of the once-respected institution that once published William Faulkner, Robert Frost and John Steinbeck. How did Sports Illustrated get to this point?

After Futurism published its report, a spokesperson for The Arena Group, which has owned and operated Sports Illustrated since 2019, said: told CNNthat the now deleted articles were created by a third-party company. “We learned that AdVon directed authors to use a pseudonym in certain articles to protect the authors’ privacy – a practice we do not condone – and we have removed the content while our internal investigation continues. and have now terminated the partnership,” said the spokesman. AdVon did not respond to CNN requests for comment.

It should come as no surprise that Sports Illustrated has come under fire; the difficulties of the publication under the owner The Arena Group (formerly Maven). adequately documented been. There are still many excellent journalists there, from young stars like Richard Johnson and Emma Baccellieri to established veterans like Pat Forde and Tom Verducci, but one only had to visit in the last three years to see how much the journalistic experience has deteriorated, taken over by Fansites, branding exercises(Sports Illustrated the resort!) and the usual rubbish found on almost every company website these days. If you’re just now gnashing your teeth about what Sports Illustrated has become since you read the magazine as a kid, then you got on that bus very, very late. (To be completely honest: I did briefly a few years ago a television show for Sports Illustratedmoderated that no one has seen.)

It’s not the first once-respected sports site to fall victim to desperation over AI-generated content: the site I founded, Deadspin, has restarted their AI programand while it’s very depressing to see my pride and joy being turned into a robot content farm, I have to admit that I’m not sure Human authors are doing much better there. The only difference between these sports websites that use AI writers and other sports websites that use AI writers is that people actually used to enjoy Sports Illustrated and Deadspin; Yahoo for example has for years a contract with a company namens Automated Insights” completed to write AI sports reports. It doesn’t look like many people noticed or really cared.

And I believe that this is even about something existential in the industry. The Others Big sports media controversy in recent weeks has involved Fox and Amazon courtside reporter Charissa Thompson(who I also worked withit’s a small industry, folks). confessed in a podcastthat when she couldn’t locate a coach for a game quote during halftime, she would sometimes “make up the report.”

Lots of smart reporters on the sidelines, including Hall of Famer Andrea Kremercriticized Thompson for her blatantly unethical behavior (for which she apologized and said, she “chose the wrong words to describe the situation”). However, it’s worth noting that despite the fact that Thompson worked on the sidelines as a reporter for eight years, not once did anyone notice that she might have been making up stories, despite having one of the most prestigious jobs in the profession.

Thompson herself said she could get away with it because, as the New York Times put itte, “no coach would mind if she quoted standard comments about the team’s performance.” That’s pretty damning, isn’t it? Of course, making up reports is bad. But what does it say about the coverage anyway that Thompson’s (self-claimed) made-up stories were indistinguishable from the empty chatter she usually hears from coaches?

When journalists make up stories, they usually do so to make them more interesting (and of course the vast majority of journalists do no such thing). But Thompson knew she shouldn’t do that because if she had made the stories interesting they would have sounded fake. Because they – and so many other sideline reporters – so rarely gave us anything meaningful. Her deception was a sad, empty, broken reflection of what she already gave us. If sportswriters can’t give us something that isn’t obviously different from something that was specifically invented to be boring and uninterestingthen how much better are we than the robots?

Another game that I enjoy playing in my free time is NBA2K, the extremely popular NBA video game. Every game I play, the (virtual) announcer throws the ball to you during halftime XBOX avatar of Curt Gowdy Award-winning reporter David Aldridge, who in real life is a fantastic journalist that NBA fans have known and respected for years. But in the game, Aldridge isn’t real, just a few pixels synced to the audio the real Aldridge recorded years ago.

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At my last game, Video Aldridge asked Video Julius Randle, who scored 16 points in the first half for my Video Knicks, what was the key to his first half performance. Video Julius Randle (also dubbed with the audio the real Randle recorded years ago) responded with empty phrases, because how could he not? He’s not real. He describes a game that didn’t happen. The whole interview is made up because that Spiel is invented.

And guess what? An NBA2K courtside interview gives me just as much insight as a real interview. They sound exactly the same. Is it any wonder Thompson wouldn’t bother with a real interview? A robot literally does it just as well.

As much as I’m saddened by the Sports Illustrated AI debacle, not to mention what’s happening on my old site, I’m less offended by the robots than despondent over the quality of the work they’re supposedly replacing. Sports journalists pushing back against a creeping AI world insist we can always do our job better than a robot. If we want to continue working in this industry and have the trust and looks of our readers and viewers… I would humbly suggest that we work a little harder to make sure we can prove it.

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2023-12-02 18:47:22
#Sports #Illustrated #debacle #tells


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