Reach, the owner of the UK’s Daily Mirror and Daily Express tabloids among other newspapers, has started publishing articles with the help of AI software on one of its regional websites as it scrambles to cut costs amid slipping advertising revenues.
Three stories written with the help of machine-learning tools were published on InYourArea.co.uk, which produces feeds of nearby goings-on in Blighty. One piece, titled Seven Things to do in Newport, is a listicle pulling together information on places and activities available in the eponymous Welsh city.
Reach CEO Jim Mullen said the machine-written articles are checked and approved by human editors before they’re published online.
“We produced our first AI content in the last ten days, but this is led by editorial,” he said, according to The Guardian. “It was all AI-produced, but the data was obviously put together by a journalist, and whether it was good enough to publish was decided by an editor.”
“There are loads of ethics [issues] around AI and journalistic content,” Mullen admitted. “The way I look at it, we produce lots of content based on actual data. It can be put together in a well-read [piece] that I think AI can do. We are trying to apply it to areas we already get traffic to allow journalists to focus on content that editors want written.”
Mullen’s comments have been questioned by journalists, however, given that Reach announced plans to slash hundreds of jobs in January. The National Union of Journalists said 102 editorial positions would be cut, putting 253 journalists at risk, whilst 180 vacancies would be withdrawn.
Reach’s latest financial results, released on Tuesday, show total revenues for 2022 were £601.4 million ($711.6 million) – a decrease of 2.3 percent compared to the year before. Operating profit plunged 27.4 percent to £106.1 million ($125 million). In a bid to make up for losses, the publicly traded company is focused on cutting operating costs by up to six percent this year.
“The current trading environment remains challenging and we expect this to continue in 2023, with sustained inflation and suppressed market demand for digital advertising. Although input costs remain elevated, we are confident that our cost action plan will enable us to deliver a 5–6 percent like for like reduction in our operating cost base for FY23,” Reach’s full-year report read [PDF].
The Register has asked London-based Reach for further comment. (A few of us vultures once worked for what is now Reach, previously known as Trinity Mirror, an empire built from absorbing hundreds of titles around Britain.)
Reach isn’t the only publisher rolling out AI-generated articles while reducing its count of human reporters. CNET owner Red Ventures laid off scribes last week and has promised to double down on machine-written content despite complaints that those articles contained errors and plagiarism.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed has produced quizzes with the help of ChatGPT, and Arena Group published botched health-related articles for Men’s Health. Both publishers have also axed employees – in December 2022 and February 2023, respectively.
The Register remains fully written and edited by humans. [And if you spot any errors, congratulations: you passed the human reader test – ed.] ®