Sports Illustrated Accused of Using AI to Produce Content, Rebuts Allegation

The outlet’s writers union slammed the publication for posting AI content with ‘fabricated bylines and writer profiles.’
Sports Illustrated Accused of Using AI to Produce Content, Rebuts Allegation
This image provided by Sports Illustrated shows the cover of the July 1, 2013, edition. (AP Photo/Sports Illustrated)
Naveen Athrappully

Sports Illustrated dismissed a report alleging the outlet of using artificial intelligence to generate content, an accusation that has triggered concerns about “basic journalistic standards.”

“Today, an article was published alleging that Sports Illustrated published AI-generated articles. According to our initial investigation, this is not accurate,” said a spokesperson for The Arena Group, according to a Nov. 27 post on X. Arena is the publisher of Sports Illustrated. “The articles in question were product reviews and were licensed content from an external, third-party company, AdVon Commerce … AdVon has assured us that all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans.”

“According to AdVon, their writers, editors, and researchers create and curate content and follow a policy that involves using both counter-plagiarism and counter-AI software on all content.”

The article that triggered the controversy is a Nov. 27 report published by media outlet Futurism, which suggested that AI was being used to write Sports Illustrated content online. The report alleged that author biographies were fake, with false names and descriptions. The profile photo of an author was found listed for sale on a website selling AI headshots.

After Futurism contacted Arena for clarifications, all alleged AI-generated authors disappeared from the Sports Illustrated website, it stated.

In its X post, the Arena spokesperson said, “We have learned that AdVon had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy—actions we strongly condemn—and we are removing the content while our internal investigation continues and have since ended the partnership.”

The Sports Illustrated Union, the editorial staff of the outlet, said that they were “horrified” by the Futurism report about AI-generated content being published under the Sports Illustrated (SI) brand with “fabricated bylines and writer profiles.”

“If true, these practices violate everything we believe in about journalism. We deplore being associated with something so disrespectful to our readers,” the union said.

“We demand answers and transparency from Arena Group management about what exactly has been published under the SI name. We demand the company commit to adhering to basic journalistic standards, including not publishing computer-written stories by fake people.”

The incident triggered a massive backlash against Sports Illustrated online. “Absolutely disgraceful,” Sam, a contributor to WWE news outlet, said in a Nov. 28 X post.

“Remember when Sports Illustrated was the gold standard? Most writers already get paid shit, no one wants to pay for content behind a paywall, & then you have AI bullshit like this to cheapen the profession even more. SI isn’t the only one doing it.”

“This is scary, sad, and most importantly very, very, very bad,” media personality Matt Pauley post in a post. “Sports Illustrated was the mountaintop of sports journalism for so many years and now not only are they using AI to create content, there is a level of deceit that is arguably immoral.”

The Epoch Times reached out to SI for comment.

AI and Writers

The controversy over Sports Illustrated comes as multiple outlets have used AI to generate content for their websites. In a memo to staff in January, BuzzFeed said the outlet will be using AI to generate content.

“In order for BuzzFeed to weather an economic downturn that I believe will extend well into 2023, we must adapt, invest in our strategy to serve our audience best, and readjust our cost structure,” said the memo, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The announcement came after BuzzFeed said a month earlier that it would cut 180 jobs or roughly 12 percent of its workforce.

Digital tech website CNET also tested an AI-powered tool to help writers produce content. However, the publication suspended the initiative after it discovered that 77 articles produced using the tool contained factual errors.

The use of AI in writing has sparked concerns about job loss among writers and journalists. During an interview with Euronews Next, Mike Sharples, a professor with several decades of experience in researching writing and AI, said that such a transition is “not yet” a possibility.

“You can either take a sort of apocalyptic view of, AI is going to put professional writers out of a job, it’s all doom and gloom and AI is going to take over,” he said.

“Or you can take the glass-half-full approach, which is that there are some amazing tools that are coming and as writers, we can make good use of them and as teachers, we can make good use of them.”

AI is a point of contention not only in the field of journalism but also in movies and TV shows. The strike from Writers Guild of America (WGA) this year was partly due to concerns about the use of artificial intelligence in Hollywood.

“AI has emerged as the existential threat to all creatives,” Jono Matt, a WGA captain, told The Epoch Times on May 16.

Caroline Renard, a WGA comedy writer, accused corporate Hollywood of wanting to “get the same level of writing without actually paying writers.”

“This is an art. I understand that corporations have their bottom line. They want to make profits and make money but being a director, an actor, a writer—that’s an art. You can’t replace that with machines.”

In a statement, the WGA insisted that “the best stories are original, insightful and often come from people’s own experiences … AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone.”

The strike ended after the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers came to an agreement mandating that content created by human writers would not be used to train AI. The deal also prohibited studios from requiring writers to use AI as part of their writing process.

Jill McLaughlin contributed to the report.