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I have zero respect for news and media organizations accepting money from OpenAI

Published Jul 19th, 2023 7:02PM EDT
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman
Image: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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It’s an old story at this point: New technology poses a potential threat to journalism, leading to shrieks of outrage and despair from the bereft media industry. Until, that is, the entity behind said new technology starts throwing money at the revenue-starved news business, kind of like what ChatGPT developer OpenAI is doing right now.

Now that it’s gone on a charm offensive to win over politicians, it seems that OpenAI’s next target is news organizations. Mind you, these are the same organizations that watched Facebook steal their traffic and readers’ attention before also convincing those publishers to pivot to video and to accept tantalizing-yet-temporary funding to participate in all sorts of Facebook initiatives that ultimately vanished. Now, it’s apparently time to start that whole cycle over again and for news business to once again get paid — albeit with cash that comes in the form of the Trojan Horse known as OpenAI.

Similar to the way that giant tech companies like Facebook and Google have doled out grants and other monetary awards to news entities — even as those tech giants decimate the traffic that underpins those businesses — OpenAI has teamed up with the American Journalism Project (AJP), a venture philanthropy group working with local news operations around the country. OpenAI is committing $5 million to support AI-focused efforts, including the AJP’s building of a technology and AI studio. That studio will lead a team focused on studying how AI can be used in the local news sector.

ChatGPT photo illustration
In this photo illustration, the ChatGPT (OpenAI) logo is displayed on a smartphone screen. Image source: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Additionally, OpenAI is handing out $5 million in API credits to the AJP and other organizations it works with to help them “build and use tools utilizing the technology.” And there will be even more money doled out to AJP partner organizations for the purpose of launching AI pilot programs.

“We proudly support the American Journalism Project’s mission to strengthen our democracy by rebuilding the country’s local news sector. This collaboration underscores our mission and belief that AI should benefit everyone and be used as a tool to enhance work,” said Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. “We look forward to working with AJP and its grantees, creating a valuable feedback loop, and exploring ways AI technology can bolster the work of local journalism.” 

Look, that’s all fine and good — but it’s also true that generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT portend all sorts of dire outcomes for content-generators like some news publishers. And accepting cash from the nonprofit behind ChatGPT will in no way make that future any less certain. Already, for example, we’re seeing news businesses lay off employees to rely more on AI.

To me, the news about the OpenAI funding is simply the media business deluding itself into believing that Lucy really will hold that football steady for them to kick this time.

It seems to me that Google and Facebook paying news organizations to work with them gave … Google and Facebook the better end of that deal because what are those tech platforms without other people’s content? Similarly, OpenAI would love to “work with” journalism entities which will no doubt mean helping train the algorithms that underpin OpenAI’s chatbot so that the latter doesn’t have to scrape the open web as much (which is increasingly leading to lawsuits and claims of theft). As a Gizmodo writer put it, funding news entities simultaneously buys legitimacy for OpenAI, plus clout in media, “while also charting it a legally safer pathway for its data mining operations.”

Like I said, this is an old story — all over again. My profession apparently never learns.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.