Thousands of journalists are facing a stark, scary “new reality” as mainstream news outlets are slashing jobs to stay afloat in the struggling industry.
Questions about the future of U.S. journalism have been raised following the news industry’s bad start this year. In January alone, several publishers laid off their employees in a continuation of the downward spiral since last year. (Related: News media outlets cut a record-breaking 2,700 jobs in 2023, with more losses predicted for 2024.)
On Jan. 9, the Los Angeles Times lost its widely respected executive editor, Kevin Merida, following clashes with transplant surgeon and billionaire businessman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s owner. Managing editors Shani Hilton and Sara Yasin followed suit a little more than a week after Merida’s departure. The departure of the three came amid continuing negotiations on staff layoffs at the paper which has one of the largest print circulations in the United States.
More than two weeks later on Jan. 24, the LA Times said it was laying off 115 journalists – amounting to more than 20 percent of its newsroom staff. Among the editors included in the cuts were Washington Bureau Chief Kimbriell Kelly, Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Nick Baumann, Business Editor Jeff Bercovici, Books Editor Boris Kachka and Music Editor Craig Marks.
On Jan. 19, most of Sports Illustrated‘s unionized staff were laid off. The job cuts followed the magazine’s parent, the Arena Group, failing to make a $3.75 million quarterly payment to the Authentic Brands Group (ABG). ABG controls the license for the magazine.
Later, roughly 400 members of the unionized staff at several Conde Nast brands – including Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair – walked out to protest layoffs announced in November of last year. The cuts impacted over 300 employees, representing five percent of total headcount and take other cost-reduction measures.
On Jan. 25, Business Insider CEO Barbara Peng announced layoffs impacting eight percent of staff in a memo. The move was part of a “restructuring aimed at positioning the company for growth,” and came almost a year after it announced job cuts of about 10 percent of its headcount.
“We have already begun to refocus teams and invest in areas that drive outsize value for our core audience,” Peng wrote. “Unfortunately, this also means we need to scale back in some areas of our organization.”
Job cuts will make way for AI in the newsroom
A story in the New York Times (NYT) touched on the successive layoffs in the industry, noting that the fortunes of American journalism “have plummeted in the digital age.” News industry analyst Ken Doctor agreed with this sentiment, adding that artificial intelligence (AI) will change the game.
“A new reality has sunk in among legacy media. Now, the new industry is looking ahead to fresh hurdles posed by AI technology,” he said. “Some outlets have expressed concern that AI algorithms, which generate impromptu answers to readers’ questions, could replace online news sites as go-to sources for current events.”
In December of last year, NYT sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement. The complaint filed on Dec. 27 accused the two companies of using millions of articles by the news outlet “to train automated chatbots that now compete as providers of information.”
Others, however, embraced AI – with some publishers cutting deals with Sam Altman’s OpenAI for annual payments in exchange for the use of their digital archives. One such company is Axel Springer, a German multinational mass media company that specializes in both electronic publishing and print media. Axel Springer owns the German newspapers Bild and Die Welt.
According to Sahil Patel and Stephanie Palazzolo of The Information, OpenAI reportedly offered some media firms “as little as between $1 million and $5 million annually” for access to their news articles. These stories will then be used to train AI large language models.
The two journalists cited two executives who have recently negotiated with the AI powerhouse as sources. Moreover, Patel and Palazzolo also disclosed that Apple was also trying to strike deals with publishers to catch up to OpenAI and Google in the generative AI sector.
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Watch this video of Andrew Klavan discussing the real story behind the layoffs at the LA Times and Sports Illustrated.
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