Newspaper conglomerate Gannett is adding AI-generated summaries to the top of its articles

May 16, 2024
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Gannett, the media company that owns hundreds of newspapers in the US, is launching a new program that adds AI-generated bullet points at the top of journalists’ stories, according to an internal memo seen by The Verge.

The AI feature, labeled “key points” on stories, uses automated technology to create summaries that appear below a headline. The bottom of articles includes a disclaimer, reading, “The Key Points at the top of this article were created with the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and reviewed by a journalist before publication. No other parts of the article were generated using AI.” The memo is dated May 14th and notes that participation is optional at this point.

The summaries appear to already be live on some USA Today stories online (Gannett owns USA Today papers). The AI-generated summary “aims to enhance the reporting process and elevate the audience experience,” according to the memo, which also states that the AI model that powers the tool was trained in-house over nine months.

“The document speaks for itself,” Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton said in an email.

Gannett has previously experimented with AI content in incidents where the company quickly backtracked after embarrassing flubs. Last August, Gannett pulled the plug on AI-generated sports recaps after readers mocked the awkwardness of the writing. In October, Gannett staff at Reviewed, the company’s consumer products site, claimed that content that was appearing online was produced using AI. As I reported last year, the third-party marketing company that produced that work was also behind the Sports Illustrated AI controversy, where AI-generated authors were credited as writers. At the time, Gannett insisted that the product reviews were not created with AI tools.

The addition of AI-generated summaries comes as members of a local union raise concerns around proposed contract language regarding the use of AI. According to Digiday, unionized workers at the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, New York, were alarmed to see a clause added to their contract during bargaining that read: “Artificial intelligence (AI) may be used to generate news content.”

AI-generated summaries on news articles mirror what’s happening to search platforms: at the Google I/O developer conference this week, the tech giant unveiled all the ways AI would become part of Search, including adding AI answers at the top of results pages. Even TikTok is experimenting with AI-generated “overviews” in search results pages. The prospect of elevating AI answers — that are trained on human-created content — above actual websites and links could be detrimental for publishers and their traffic, as users drop off after reading AI summaries instead of continuing on to the source material.

Anton didn’t respond to The Verge’s questions about whether AI summaries could disincentivize readers from reading the actual story.

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