USA Today Owner Pauses AI Articles After Butchering Sports Coverage


That was fast.

The Columbus Dispatch, a newspaper serving the Columbus, Ohio area, has suspended its AI efforts after its AI-powered sports writing bot was caught churning out horrible, robotic articles about local sports, Axios reports.

The Dispatch — which is notably owned by USA Today publisher Gannett — only started publishing the AI-generated sports pieces on August 18, using the bot to drum up quick-hit stories about the winners and losers in regional high school football and soccer matches. And though the paper's ethics disclosure states that all AI-spun content featured in its reporting "must be verified for accuracy and factuality before being used in reporting," we'd be surprised if a single human eye was laid on these articles before publishing.

Why? Because each formulaic article is riddled with laughably vague statements — one August 18 article about a football game, for example, described the event as a "close encounter of the athletic kind" — and repetitive phrasing about hibernating second halves and which team drew first blood. One article even failed to populate properly, with the text instead featuring a bracketed glimpse at how its opening sentence was supposed to read.

"The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday," reads the butchered intro. Yikes.

Short and Sweet

The Dispatch's AI efforts were powered by LedeAI, a startup claiming to use generative AI to offer "lightning-fast" and "easy to read" sports content. (The firm also goes so far as to declare that its datasets are the "deepest and most scalable in the world," which feels a bit like slapping an Amazon-purchased World's Best Coffee sticker onto any old cafe window.)

Another bite of this riveting, well-informed journalism:

"The Steubenville Big Red defeated the Cambridge Bobcats 10-0 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday," reads one August 19th article. "A suffocating defense helped Steubenville handle Cambridge 10-0 in Ohio boys soccer on Aug. 19."

That's it. That's the whole post.

Second Quarter Hibernation

Gannett has unsurprisingly put a temporary kibosh on the project, telling Axios that "this local AI sports effort is being paused."

The publisher is "continually evaluating vendors," a spokesperson for the publisher added, "as we refine processes to ensure all the news and information we provide meets the highest journalistic standards."

Speaking of journalistic standards? It's worth noting, as Axios did, that this is the first football season played since Gannett shut down ThisWeek Community News, an award-winning newspaper collection that documented local area sports. But in the words of Dispatch's AI itself, may the AI effort enjoy its "hibernation."

More on AI and journalism: "AI Will Never Replace Journalism," Says Magazine CEO Replacing Journalists with AI