Publishers Embrace Text Generation GPT-fueled content at the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and more

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Buzzfeed's AI-generated quizzes

Media outlets are forging ahead with generative AI despite the technology’s high-profile misfires.

What’s new: Publishers are using text generators to produce light reading within constrained formats such as holiday messages and quizzes.

The lineup: Three publications, in particular, are taking various approaches to automated content.

  • The New York Times published an interactive feature that uses OpenAI’s ChatGPT to generate Valentine’s Day messages. Users can choose a message’s tone (such as “romantic” or “platonic”), intended recipient (such as “an ex,” “yourself,” or “ChatGPT”), and style (such as “greeting card” or “pirate”).
  • BuzzFeed introduced an ongoing series of quizzes powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3. A human staff member comes up with a concept (such as “Date your celebrity crush”) and writes headlines and questions. Readers fill in text boxes or select among multiple choices, and GPT-3 generates a few paragraphs on the theme. The quizzes provide an opportunity to collect revenue from sponsors. For instance, Miracle-Gro, a vendor of garden fertilizer, sponsored a recent quiz that prodded readers to describe their ideal soulmate and replied by pairing them with a houseplant.
  • Men’s Journal used OpenAI’s technology to generate articles with titles like “Proven Tips to Help You Run Your Fastest Mile Yet.” The articles are attributed to “Men’s Fitness Editors,” but they include a disclaimer that notes AI’s role in producing them. The magazine’s parent company recently signed partnerships with Jasper and Nota, startups that generate text and video respectively, to produce material for its 250 media properties including Sports Illustrated, Parade, and TheStreet.

Behind the news: The current vogue for generated content caps several years of experimentation. It’s not clear whether any of these initiatives remain active.

  • Between November 2022 and January 2023, technology outlet CNET used a proprietary model to write 78 articles on personal finance topics. The publisher suspended the model after journalists at another outlet discovered mistakes in many of the articles.
  • In 2019, financial news service Bloomberg developed a tool called Cyborg to automatically summarize earnings reports.
  • In 2018, Forbes developed a system called Bertie to recommend topics, headlines, and artwork.
  • In 2017, The Washington Post introduced Heliograf, a model for crafting post-game reports of local sports competitions.

Why it matters: The web has a voracious appetite for [page, and generated text can help online publications produce low-effort pages or perform menial tasks while qualified journalists to do more cerebral work. Investors like the idea: BuzzFeed’s stock jumped over 100 percent after it announced its relationship with OpenAI.

We’re thinking: On one hand, it makes sense for news outlets to dip their toes in the roiling waters of text generation by restricting it to fun, inconsequential fare. On the other hand, large language models have a hard enough time generating helpful output without being programmed to tell us our soulmate is a houseplant.


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