How Sports Illustrated readers spotted AI-written articles

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Sports Illustrated was first published in August 1954. It eventually became America's iconic sports magazine with three million subscribers. But the magazine is going through difficult times and has recently been criticized for publishing articles using artificial intelligence. LA Times tech columnist Brian Merchant wrote about the demise of Sports Illustrated and joined Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today” to learn more.

Merchant said Sports Illustrated was the “standard bearer” of sports journalism in its heyday, from the weekly feature to its popular swimsuit edition. But with the shift to online media, Sports Illustrated's dominance began to fade.

“As the Internet grew and began to gain an online audience, print magazines and publications really began to suffer. And Sports Illustrated was no different. Sports Illustrated was even a bit unique among magazines in that it actually lasted longer than some other magazines. It was therefore even more vulnerable to this decline, as advertising revenue was disappearing as revenue shifted to digital. Sports Illustrated went from a weekly publication to a biweekly, and now monthly, edition,” Merchant said.

Last fall, readers began to notice that Sports Illustrated's article content was not up to par with the magazine's previous quality. The stories were written by artificial intelligence.

“All these articles are starting to appear under the Sports Illustrated banner and are really poorly written… It's some of the worst writing you can imagine. It turns out it's written by writers who don't exist because they're artificially generated, and the articles themselves are almost certainly artificially generated. And (the publisher) says (that they) subcontracted the production of these articles to another company called Advan, and that is a company whose business is to produce articles generated by the 'AI,” Merchant said.

Merchant spoke about the importance of media literacy as artificial intelligence becomes even more widely used in the coming years.

“Stay freezing out there because there’s going to be more of this.” There will be more AI content farms and disinformation. So media literacy is going to be very important and, you know, support the publications that you care about and that employ humans with your money,” he said.

Click the arrow above to watch the full interview.

Watch “LA Times Today” at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app.

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