When AI Courts Journalism: OPENAI's Grand Strategy and its Media Tango

As artificial intelligence (AI) and journalism become more entangled than ever before, OpenAI, at the front of these discussions, holds new partnerships and potential with some of the largest media outlets in the world. This is an investigation into OpenAI’s recent partnerships with prominent media organisations, the impact they may have on journalism, and what that means for information ecosystems.

OpenAI and Its Growing Media Alliances

Most notably, OpenAI has partnered with magazines such as The Atlantic and Vox Media, as well as newer publishers like Meredith Dotdash, all of which are attempting a new pinnacle of journalism through the partnership: the seamless integration of AI into news pieces. Currently, there is an opportunity – but also an ethics problem – for us to follow in these companies’ footsteps. As AI technologies develop further, it will possess more control over its own existence.

Why OpenAI Partners with Media Outlets

The reasoning is twofold. Remember, OpenAI is allowed to sell licences for use of the work, enabling its machine learning models to reach new levels of linguistic prowess. For those media organisations struggling with the digital turn, the benefits include investment and the promise of wider dissemination of their content via ChatGPT.

The Economics of Content: Paid Licenses vs. Free Scraping

In the early days, data for AI models such as those that drive GOOGLE was largely sourced from free scraping of the web, but increased pushback from creators and litigation over copyright spurred a maturation: legally licensing the data required to train a model. This month, the American technology company OpenAI announced a strategic reversal: licensing content from many large publishers, on top of legally licensing content from a lot of smaller publishers. It is a forward-looking move with a lot to unpack.

The Media Perspective: A Dubious Trade-off?

The risk for media publishers in this scenario would be agreeing to OpenAI content agreements, gaining financial rewards and greater exposure as their content is ingested and surfaced on ChatGPT outputs, while perhaps not considering the longer-term implications on traffic, subscriber bases and brand value of journalistic content that can be distilled and consumed via AI summaries.

Echoes of the Past: The GOOGLE NEWS Precedent

These dynamics recall the early days of Google News when the tech giant’s algorithmic aggregation and distribution of news reshaping audience consumption habits. The swift public uptake of generative AI could signal a sea change in how news is consumed, what news we value, and how we value it.

Exploring Alternatives: Small Publishers and Direct Engagement

Among these partnerships, there is a feeling of a thousand flowers blooming in smaller publications trying to stake out niche routes through reader-centric direct engagement routes on Substack and other independent publishing mechanisms, building base-to-peak relationships the way journalism did for centuries.

Navigating the Future: OpenAI's Role in the Media Tapestry

And as OpenAI solidifies its emerging role in the media ecosystem, a lot is still up in the air about the consequences over the long term for journalism and democratic discourse and social cohesion. Will ChatGPT become most people’s first stop for breaking news, changing everything as profoundly as Google did in its earliest days, or won’t it?

Understanding OpenAI

At its core, OpenAI is a mixture of both hubris and fear, a company that is pushing the frontiers of AI while trying to figure out where those frontiers take us – how humanity will consume, trust and value information in the future – perhaps before we even know where those frontiers lie.

This partnership is just one of many that will continue to transform the relationship between AI and journalism, a relationship that contains as much risk as reward. The outcomes of these partnerships will continue to test the ethical limits of copyright, the value of content, and the role of AI in public discourse. For media companies, access to OpenAI’s partnerships represents just a glimpse into a future in which an AI could make them more relevant as a business, or more irrelevant as an institution. Either way, this is a story worth watching.

May 30, 2024
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