Fake authors, layoffs have Sports Illustrated reeling: report

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Fake authors, layoffs have Sports Illustrated reeling: report

| Updated: November 30, 2023 16:08

A lot has changed in journalism since the onslaught of COVID. Big media houses, bleeding losses, shut down overnight. As newspaper circulation dropped, print media became obsolete all too soon as smartphones and television became the first choices to consume news.

Layoffs weren’t a surprise anymore; senior journalists were only waiting for the inevitable.

Meanwhile, a widely-read sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, encountered a peculiar challenge. A New York Times article reveals that three years ago, Sports Illustrated journalists were unsettled by the way the magazine’s standards had dropped. A change in ownership added to the uncertainty.

Under its first owner, Time Inc., there were job cuts, including those of the magazine’s acclaimed photographers. There was a time when Sports Illustrated had a print circulation of more than three million. Things kept going downhill, and Sports Illustrated went from being a weekly print magazine to a monthly.

Cut to the present, Sports Illustrated journalists want their pay revised and greater transparency in hiring processes.

Banal writing and the use of freelancers who deliver sloppy output are other concerns.

The NYT report says the situation continues to be bleak there. 

Meanwhile, science and technology publication Futurism has claimed that Sports Illustrated published product reviews under phoney author names with fake author biographies. 

Futurism, the NYT report adds, could find no evidence that the authors even existed. 

What’s more, images with bios could be found on websites that sell AI-generated headshots. Futurism has hinted that AI might have created the words in the reviews.

“If true, these practices violate everything we believe in about journalism,” the union representing Sports Illustrated journalists said in a statement published by NYT. “We deplore being associated with something so disrespectful to our readers.”

However, the Arena Group, which publishes Sports Illustrated under a complex management structure, believes a vendor, AdVon Commerce, is responsible for the mess. 

The NYT report says Sports Illustrated licenses product reviews from AdVon. 

AdVon assured the Arena Group that “all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans,” Rachael Fink, an Arena Group spokeswoman, told the media house. 

She mentioned that AdVon “had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy.”

Four years ago, media firm Meredith sold Sports Illustrated’s intellectual property to the Authentic Brands Group. Additionally, NYT reports, it sold a 10-year license to publish Sports Illustrated to The Maven, now the Arena Group. The report adds that Arena, according to the deal, pays Authentic Brands $15 million every year to run the Sports Illustrated.

Disenchanted employees have griped that Arena has been indifferent to quality checks, the report says. The situation reportedly became unmanageable in February when 17 of its employees lost their jobs, while putting in force a certain number of weekly outputs from writers.

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