AI Is Coming for Your Content — What Publishers Can Do About It

Credit: DALL-E

Yesterday I spoke on a panel about automation and AI in newsrooms, hosted by the State of Digital Publishing for WordPress Week. The discussion got me thinking about how journalists can leverage generative AI, not to produce “gray slime,” but to enhance and speed up real journalism — the unique stories that differentiate the reporters and the publications they work for.

Then I read this scoop from 404 Media that describes how Automattic, the parent company of Tumblr and WordPress, stumbled through a plan to share its users’ content with OpenAI. There’s been predictably a lot of backlash from the users of those platforms, but I was mostly struck with how slapdash the process was, with internal emails suggesting there was massive confusion about what content to share, and how.

It was a reminder that even when journalists and content creators do their jobs, when it comes to how AI treats their work, they’re at the mercy of platforms.

More on that in a minute, but first a quick reminder that you have only two days left to take advantage of big discounts on The Media Copilot’s AI classes for March:

Looking to understand how AI can help make you a more productive journalist, PR professional, marketer, or content creator? We highly recommend our thorough three-hour AI Bootstrapping for Marketers and Media class, happening March 20. Starting with foundational AI concepts, the class teaches the essentials of prompting, explores a suite of tools curated for creative work, and shows how to get started on custom solutions for your own workflows. We focus a big chunk of the class on live workshopping and Q&A, which students find very valuable.

For those with busy schedules, we also offer a one-hour Beginning AI for Marketers, PR, and Journalists, happening March 21. It’s a crash course meant to rapidly bring novices up to speed on using generative tools. Even if you think you know the basics of ChatGPT and other chatbots already, this class will improve your use of it with a focus on advanced prompting techniques, underutilized features, and a set of go-to tools for speeding up work.

As a newsletter subscriber, you can take advantage of an early-bird discount on both classes. Our AI Fundamentals normally costs $750, but if you use the discount code MARCHBIRD, you’ll save $300. Use the same code for the $80 Beginning AI class for a $20 discount. The discount code will only work until Feb. 29, so be sure to register before the calendar changes to get those savings. Here’s that link again to start your registration.

It’s completely understandable that Automattic is moving to license its content to OpenAI (and probably other models), and quickly. The economics of licensing data to foundational models are in their infancy, so there’s an opportunity to seize the moment and lock in a deal that’s potentially much better than it might get down the road.

Given its response to The New York Times lawsuit, OpenAI seems to simultaneously recognize the value of the training data its AI systems ingest, but that any single data source within its training data is minor. By acting early, Automattic has the opportunity to define that balance for itself. The alternative is to simply opt out of training, but the longer any single player does so, the more they defer control to others who don’t.

However, those internal emails show that there is far more nuance than a blanket “do not train” label. That goes double platforms like Tumblr and WordPress, where much of the content is user-generated. That inherently complicates the picture, and in response to the 404 article, Automattic posted a statement about how it provides a way for its users to opt out of AI training at the individual contributor level.

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