Sports Illustrated Layoffs A Result Of AI Scandal

The union of Sports Illustrated says that the magazine’s publisher, The Arena Group, is laying off many of its staff following a failed payment to the brand’s licensor, leaving the leader in sports journalism’s decades-long history on the line.

In November 2023, Sports Illustrated, once a leader in the sports journalism industry, faced accusations of using Artificial Intelligence software to write news articles.

The news comes just a day after the Arena Group let go of another 100 employees across non-Sports Illustrated brands, including the firing of Ross Levinsohn, who was fired in December.

Manoj Bhargava, the 5-Hour Energy founder who owns a majority stake in Arena Group, was named the company’s interim CEO following the firing, according to the company’s statement.

This occurred after a report revealed that Sports Illustrated had published many news articles under fake authors with AI-generated headshots. The Arena Group insists that the AI incident has nothing to do with executive firings and layoffs.

Instead, the popular sports illustration maintains that its layoffs are due to “substantial debt” and “recently missed payments.”

Sports Illustrated is the latest media company to see its reputation damaged by dishonesty about who is writing its stories in the era of artificial intelligence.

While there’s nothing wrong in media companies experimenting with artificial intelligence, “the mistake is in trying to hide it, and in doing it poorly,” said Tom Rosenstiel, a University of Maryland professor who teaches journalism ethics.

Artificial Intelligence isn’t only a tool used by executives eager to embrace the future but also a last effort to extract the final pieces of value from something that doesn’t exist. Sports Illustrated has already slashed full-time staff, spun up content with freelancers working for a fraction of the price, and let their standards diminish.

AI has become a cheap, unimaginative way to generate value with the lowest effort or investment.

The Arena Group is not the first publishing company to be engulfed by the rapid deployment of AI. Since it emerged over one year ago, several news agencies have deployed Artificial Intelligence to automate and expedite the publication of specific stories.

However, in the freelancer world, AI is becoming more and more frowned upon by dedicated writers.