‘What’s in it for us?’ journalists ask as publications sign content deals with AI firms

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In a move that has stunned journalists, Vox Media and The Atlantic have signed content licensing deals with OpenAI, granting the AI company access to their entire archives to train its models, including ChatGPT. The deals, revealed just moments before news outlets broke the story, have raised concerns about the future of journalism, copyright and the potential for AI to replace human writers. Journalists at both publications are worried about the lack of transparency and the short-sighted nature of these agreements, while their unions are pushing for protections from AI-driven job displacement.

Key Takeaways

  • Vox Media and The Atlantic have signed content licensing deals with OpenAI. This grants OpenAI access to their entire archives to train AI models like ChatGPT.
  • The deals were announced with little notice to journalists at the publications. This has fueled concerns about the lack of transparency and ethical implications.
  • Both Vox Media and The Atlantic have published critiques of OpenAI and generative AI in the past. The deals come as a surprise given their previous concerns about the technology.
  • Journalists are worried about the potential impact of these deals on the future of journalism. They fear that AI could replace their jobs and that their work could be exploited without proper compensation.
  • Unions are pushing for protections from AI-driven job displacement and ensuring that journalists have a say in how AI is implemented. They are using these deals as a catalyst for negotiations about AI’s role in the newsroom.

Silence is Golden, Or is It?

The news of the deals has sent shockwaves through the journalism community, causing anger and frustration with the lack of transparency and consultation. This is particularly striking considering that both Vox Media and The Atlantic have in the past published pieces critical of OpenAI and its technology.

"Both Vox Media — which includes The Verge, New York, Eater, The Cut and more publications — and The Atlantic have published pieces that are critical of OpenAI and generative AI," said Amy McCarthy, a reporter at Eater and communications chair of Vox’s union.

The silence from the companies regarding the details of the deals, including the financial terms and specific protections for journalists, has further exacerbated these feelings of betrayal. Journalists are asking what exactly they stand to gain from these deals and how their work will be used by OpenAI.

"The Atlantic staffers have largely learned of this agreement from outside sources, and both the company and OpenAI have refused to answer questions about the terms of the deal," reads a statement from The Atlantic Union.

It’s not just the lack of information that’s concerning, but the potential impact of the company’s sudden change in stance on AI that’s also worrying journalists.

"None of the current or former journalists at either company who TechCrunch interviewed had any inkling that their work would be handed over to OpenAI," the article states.

The Shadow of AI: A Threat to the Future of Journalism?

The news of the deals has brought to the forefront the broader concerns about the future of journalism in the age of AI. Journalists are worried about job security and the potential for their work to be exploited by AI companies without proper recognition or compensation.

"We have to look at every potential avenue as a way to push back against AI implementation," said McCarthy, reflecting the anxieties of many journalists.

The deals, which involve giving OpenAI access to entire archives, raise concerns about copyright infringement. OpenAI claims it is not violating copyright laws by scraping what it says is public content, but these claims are already being challenged in lawsuits by publications like The New York Times, Raw Story, AlterNet, and The Intercept.

"If the courts rule that OpenAI and others are guilty of copyright infringement, “they’ll need to make a deal with everybody,” said Richard Tofel, former president of ProPublica and a consultant to news outlets.

As more publishers potentially follow the path of Vox Media and The Atlantic, the future of journalism could be dramatically altered. The combination of AI’s potential for disrupting established business models and the increasing consolidation of power within a few large AI companies creates a significant challenge for independent journalism.

The Union’s Fight: Negotiating for a Future with AI

In the face of these developments, journalists’ unions are stepping up their efforts to secure protections for their members. The Writers Guild of America (WGA), which won significant AI-related protections during the recent Hollywood writers’ strike, and other unions are pushing for similar safeguards in the news industry.

"The Writers Guild and Vox Media Union are firmly of the opinion that implementation of AI is a mandatory subject of bargaining," said McCarthy.

The unions are also using this instance to highlight the concern about AI replacing writers in newsrooms.

"We have provisions in our contract that essentially mean that the company has to bargain with us over fundamental changes to our working conditions, and we very much believe this is a workplace issue, that it’s a working conditions issue, and that the company is obligated to bargain with us about how this will work," McCarthy added.

The Atlantic Media Union, for its part, has already proposed that AI be used at writers’ discretion and not to replace writing, fact-checking, copy editing, and illustration. This highlights the importance of journalists retaining control over their work and ensuring ethical considerations are prioritized in the implementation of AI.

A New Frontier: AI and the Future of News Consumption

Beyond the concerns about copyright and job security, these deals also raise questions about how news will be consumed in the future. OpenAI claims that its partnerships with publishers will help drive traffic back to their articles.

However, the potential for AI to become a primary source of news information could disrupt the traditional news ecosystem.

"They could be very significantly disintermediated by an AI news product," said Tofel.

This raises a fundamental question about the future of journalistic authority and control over information dissemination. The ability of AI to summarize and present news information in a concise and accessible way could potentially bypass the need for people to visit individual news websites.

The issue of ad revenue is also likely to be affected. As audiences rely increasingly on AI for news access, publishers could face a dramatic decline in website traffic, potentially harming their revenue streams and further jeopardizing their financial sustainability.

The Takeaway: Cautious Optimism but a Critical Eye

The current situation presents both challenges and opportunities for news organizations. While there is potential for increased accessibility and broader reach through AI-powered platforms, the future of journalism requires careful navigation to avoid exploitation and maintain journalistic integrity.

It is crucial for both news organizations and AI developers to work together to establish clear guidelines and ethical frameworks for the use of AI in news production, consumption, and distribution.

Journalists’ unions and advocacy groups will need to play an active role in ensuring that journalists have a say in how AI technology is implemented in the newsroom, ensuring it is used to augment rather than replace human work.

These deals serve as a stark reminder of the rapid evolution of the media landscape and the need for critical dialogue and proactive measures to protect the future of journalism. The next chapter in the story of news and AI is being written, and it is crucial to ensure that journalists and their work are not left behind.

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Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson is a tech enthusiast with over a decade of experience in the industry. She has a knack for identifying the next big thing in startups and has reviewed countless internet products. Emily's deep insights and thorough analysis make her a trusted voice in the tech news arena.