Journalism’s War Against AI

Image via Midjourney

In the early years of the digitization boom, book publishers sue Google for making something that made perfect sense — at least on paper: Google Books. The publishers’ objection to the tool was simple: Google was digitizing their titles and offering it up under their search tools. There were guardrails in place to prevent people from reading entire books online for free, but in general you could hit Google Books for a quote or historical point and come away without buying the book.

Here’s a bit of the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Though there was general agreement that Google’s attempt to digitize books through scanning and computer-aided recognition for searching online was seen as a transformative step for libraries, many authors and publishers had expressed concern that Google had not sought their permission to make scans of the books still under copyright and offered them to users. Two separate lawsuits, including one from three authors represented by the Authors Guild and another by Association of American Publishers, were filed in 2005 charging Google with copyright infringement. Google worked with the litigants in both suits to develop a settlement agreement (the Google Book Search Settlement Agreement) that would have allowed it to continue the program [through] paying out for works it had previously scanned, creating a revenue program for future books that were part of the search engine, and allowing authors and publishers to opt out.

This happened in 2005, a time in which most of the world was just waking up to the torrent of data and content that was about to engulf the globe. Facebook was a year old. Blogging was just taking off – Julie Powell of the Julie/Julia Project was probably the first blogger to get a book deal and major motion picture made about her work. And online content was all about aggregation and discovery.

Subscribe now

In those heady, early days of blogging the goal was to tell your audience that something was happening. Maybe it was a product launch, maybe it was a press release rewrite, or maybe it was a retelling of a piece of news. The important thing was to have it up fast and get it right, quality be damned. Reporting was put on the back burner as countless websites scrambled for “scoops” that took the older titles — the New York Times, PC Magazine, Fast Company — a month to publish. Sure the Times’ eventual article would be better than whatever Drudge Report dross would appear but the key to the whole thing was aggregation. Obscure stories were taken, rewritten, and posted as new content on countless blogs.

This aggregation is exactly what the Times is charging OpenAI with, except this time it’s an LLM doing the aggregating. The idea that a robot can replace a human is obvious and, in this case, probably preferred. Our team at The Media Copilot has done a lot of work in the aggregation space and have basically solved it for small news publishers, but the Times wouldn’t like what I’m doing. That said, aggregation was a business model with teeth in the last decade, and it can help build a new crop of editors who work with AI to write stories and then edit and flesh out those stories with some humanity.

In short, the Times is railing against a coming tsunami. Their efforts to stymie AI in news rewrites is unsustainable and problematic. To say that an AI can write like an New York Times article is akin to saying a film camera can paint the Mona Lisa. It can capture the superficial image but not the truth or art.

So we’re stuck watching a behemoth beat against the oncoming waves. That’s never pretty and, as much as I hate the laissez-faire attitude of the SF intelligentsia, we all know how this ends.

We’ve just started a new meetup group for The Media Copilot. We’d love to meet you in person. If you’d like to sponsor an hour of drinks for the meetup, please reach out to Otherwise join the group and let’s all get together!

Join the Group

Ready to start using AI like a pro?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.