An American Icon in Decline
Sports Illustrated, along with other classic American magazines like People, Time, and National Geographic, has long been a staple in dentist offices, coffee tables, and doormats across the country. It was once an institution, boasting 3 million subscribers and receiving numerous awards and accolades. However, today it finds itself publishing third-rate articles generated by artificial intelligence (AI). What happened to this celebrated publication?
The AI Scandal
In a recent expose by tech and culture site Futurism, it was revealed that Sports Illustrated was publishing poorly written articles attributed to fake authors who didn’t exist. The articles were generated by AI, and the fake authors’ headshots were traced back to a website that sells AI-generated images. Although Sports Illustrated’s publisher, Arena Group, denied the use of AI, sources confirmed that the content was indeed AI-generated.
Bad Management and Profit-seeking
However, the use of AI in Sports Illustrated is just a symptom of a larger problem. The magazine was already in decline before AI came into the picture. Facing economic challenges, it downsized, switched publication schedules, and was eventually sold to Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a company focused on licensing deals. ABG then licensed the publication rights to Arena Group.
Arena Group, driven by profit, has enforced daily quotas of article production, leading to a churn of low-quality content produced by non-staff writers. Editors and staff were let go, and the magazine’s editorial standards deteriorated. AI was introduced as a last-ditch effort to extract value from a broken system.
The Wider Problem in Media
Sports Illustrated is not the only media institution to resort to AI in an attempt to maximize profits. Other media organizations, such as G/O Media, CNET, and Gannett, have faced economic challenges and turned to AI as a cheap and unimaginative solution to generate content and increase revenue. Private equity firms and licensing companies have taken over these institutions, prioritizing profit over quality journalism.
A Tragedy for Journalism
While some may argue that cultural institutions evolve and fade, the tragedy of AI lies in how it is being used as a tool to degrade the production of content. The rise of AI is not a threat to journalists being replaced but a reflection of management’s disregard for quality journalism. AI solutions often emerge from deals with third-party companies and serve as a desperate attempt to avoid developing a real plan to turn a business around.
Journalists should be outraged not because AI is replacing them but because management values automatic production over the work they do. AI promises to accelerate the decline of content creation and further erode the integrity of media organizations.
In the end, the fall of Sports Illustrated is a cautionary tale about the dangers of mismanagement and profit-seeking in the face of technological advancements. Rather than embracing AI as a tool for innovation, it has been used as a band-aid solution to deeper problems. The real tragedy lies in the loss of a beloved cultural institution that was once a symbol of great sports journalism.