What Journalists Need to Learn From AI-Generated Grey Slime

Image via MidJourney

As we enter the “grey slime” phase of AI-generated content, we need to remind ourselves that, for better or worse, it works.

I recently read a Wired article about the new owner of The Hairpin, a beloved blog that went under in about 2018 and remained dormant for years. Now, however, it’s been brought back through the magic of AI.

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From an earlier article on the site’s capture:

In 2018, the indie women’s website The Hairpin stopped publishing, along with its sister site The Awl. This year, The Hairpin has been Frankensteined back into existence and stuffed with slapdash AI-generated articles designed to attract search engine traffic. (Sample headlines: “What Does It Mean When You Remember Your Dreams?” and “White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ Explained.”) Some original articles remain but have been reformatted in a strange way, and the authors’ bylines have been replaced by generic male names of people who do not appear to exist. One piece by writer Kelly Conaboy about celebrity teeth now appears under the name “James Nolen,” of whom I can’t find a single trace online.

One of their latest articles is an exploration of the dream symbolism of dying fathers and falling cars. The analysis is pretty out there:

Courtesy of The Hair Pin via ChatGPT 2.5, apparently

The source of this mad garbage is a Serbian Nebojša Vujinović Vujo. Vujo is a domain squatter. He buys up domains with some authority — The Hairpin had just enough — and then floods them with AI-generated content. The content, as you can see above, is a fever dream of weirdly disassociated topics probably generated by asking ChatGPT to write 10 SEO-friendly blog post topics for the website.

Image via ChatGPT

The fact that they did a story on little houses and dead dad dreams suggests that there is some kind of human behind the site who maybe woke up one morning after a weird dream about their dad and asked the AI to go nuts. Basically, it’s the ultimate model for content creation: a human chooses the topics and the AI finishes the job.

Vujo claims his sites can bring in $30,000-$50,000 a month each, which sounds impressive but highly unlikely given the traffic that his sites are probably churning out. Instead, he’s probably making a few thousand per site at best.

But, if you think about it, he’s doing exactly what journalistic outlets should be doing.

Let’s put on our mercenary hats for a minute.

Most currently successful news orgs have dozens of amazing reporters. At staid old pubs they are writing one or two stories per week. At modern content mills they are doing 10 posts a day. The result, in both cases, is subpar traffic. The one or two stories per week, well-researched and well-written, are probably boat anchors. The traffic there might range into the thousands but never into the millions and they’re definitely not going to give the sites any SEO juice. Maybe you’ll get lucky with a Dog Bites Man viral story, but 99% of the time they fall into the dark content marshes and sink into oblivion.

So then we have the 10-per-day crowd. Those writers, usually young and ambitious, are producing listicles and clickbait that is philosophically the same as the Frankensteined Hairpin’s but are hand-crafted by humans like some kind of delicate Fabergé clickbait.

In both cases, the news orgs that run these strategies are doomed. Barring a subscription model or micropayments, no one will beat Vujo’s AI farms at their own game.


If you can’t beat Vujo, why not join him? Dedicate two of those writers to shepherd 20 clickable AI-generated posts over the transom each day — 40 if they can stomach it — and let the rest of the writers focus on their own, better writing. The clickbait can be less visible on the home page (maybe just a headline), but it will get Google’s attention, which will get a human’s attention, and ultimately do the thing that still keeps the lights on for the vast majority of media: score a click.

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Here’s the problem, though: this idea offends the delicate sensibilities of journalists. I will never argue that good journalism shouldn’t exist and that care must be taken to tell the truth at every point, but come on: we don’t need a Northeastern grad to write a 1,500-word article on a school board meeting when an AI can convert her notes into an AP-style story in a few seconds. Further, why burden smart people with garbage? Does a human really have to write that Bluesky got a million signups? An AI and human combo could pop that article out in a few minutes, freeing the human to write something far more interesting.

But, alas, guys like Vujo will keep churning out grey slime while the humans fight valiantly against the tide. Until the current crop of journalists understands that their jobs are at stake here and that only by using the tools given them by happenstance — however offensive they may seem — can they save themselves. It’s going to take a minute for that to sink in.

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