Home Artificial Intelligence AI companies freeze out partisan media

AI companies freeze out partisan media

The rapid evolution and progress of generative AI has frightened many media companies. The Wall Street Journal reported late last year that search accounted for nearly 40% of publishers’ traffic, much of which will likely be cannibalized by AI-fueled news summaries and other tools in the coming years, meaning declines in ad and ecommerce revenue.

But the emerging irony is that while AI could take a sledgehammer to the search businesses that some establishment media companies have created, it may simultaneously restore their political and cultural power.

Over the last ten years, fringe and alternative media companies were able to hijack the discourse by going viral. Startup news websites, blogs and Facebook pages learned how to use social media platforms to siphon audiences away from the legacy players, many of whom were slower to adapt. That business model disincentivized caution in favor of speed and sensationalism, pushing the news business and political discourse in that direction.

Meanwhile, AI companies are trying to produce bots that are less inclined to regurgitate garbage. They’re far from perfect; Google rolled out its new AI Overview product this week, which suggested some users try putting glue on their pizza or eat rocks. But dietary recommendations aside, the major players are continuing to work out the kinks, so that as consumers increasingly turn to AI to understand complex and thorny news stories, the machines can reliably spit out accurate information.

The inputs that train OpenAI’s ChatGPT and other AI systems are closely guarded secrets, and it’s difficult to know how they treat websites that tip strongly one way or the other politically. A spokesperson for OpenAI did not return a request for comment explaining why the company decided to partner with some news organizations while bypassing others.

But OpenAI’s public actions hint at which news publishers they believe to be on their side.

In addition to the outlets it’s already struck deals with, OpenAI has been in negotiations with CNN’s business and digital teams for months, though talks have slowed over disagreements over the value of CNN’s articles. The Washington Post told the Wall Street Journal this week that it was “in the market for significant AI partnerships.” And Time Magazine CEO Jess Sibley told Semafor in a phone call that it continued to be in “active and ongoing positive conversations” with OpenAI, and that the company was optimistic about how it would use its information.

“We’ve outlasted many significant shifts in consumer behaviors, and we’re excited about this one,” she said. “Time is well positioned. It’s not just our reporting today and the future — it’s our 100 year archives that are also important.”

Even the publishers now hostile to AI companies — led by The New York Times, which has sued OpenAI — are looking to future business arrangements with them, and hoping for better terms. Before its lawsuit, the Times was in negotiations about a licensing agreement with the tech company. Condé Nast, which publishes Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Vogue, sees in generative AI “a clear violation of copyright law,” its CEO Roger Lynch said in an emailed statement.

Lynch also called for Congress to enact a new AI regulatory framework. “While some technology companies have shown a willingness to create partnerships and license agreements, others have not. Until everyone is working with the same understanding of the law, the threat to media and publishing remains real and consequential,” he said.

With the exception of Elon Musk’s takeover of X, many of the major developments at social media platforms over the last several years have strengthened legacy media like The New York Times at the expense of their digitally native competitors, particularly those on the right. Conservative media organizations have been some of the biggest losers of Facebook’s decision to get out of news, which tanked traffic to right-leaning news sites.

At least a few conservatives seem to understand that AI, too, threatens to tilt informational power back to the establishment. Months after most mainstream news organizations stopped AI crawlers from scraping training data from their sites, many prominent right-wing news sites continued to let themselves be scraped. The Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner both blocked AI crawlers, but the Daily Wire continued to allow them, in part, “to help ensure AI doesn’t end up with all of the same biases as the establishment press.”

Some left-leaning digital news organizations, including The Intercept, Raw Story, and Alternet, have sued OpenAI and Microsoft over copyright infringement, arguing that the AI has been training on their work without giving proper credit or attribution. The existence of the lawsuits shows that OpenAI doesn’t consider the sites to be on the same level as the major news players, and hasn’t felt the need to compensate them.

 

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