Despite G/O Media’s full-throttle approach to generative artificial intelligence, one that’s been laden with errors and sparse on words, has partially pushed multiple editors to leave various G/O-owned properties, CEO Jim Spanfeller committed to not allowing the efforts to interfere with the company’s roster of journalists.
“Our goal is to hire more journalists,” he told Vox in July, saying the technology wouldn’t replace humans.
That pledge apparently does not extend to full-on automation, which resulted in Gizmodo en Español’s four full-time staffers’ firing late last month as the company switched to an automated translation service. In a previously unreported memo sent by Editorial Director Merrill Brown announcing the tool, there was no mention of the Spanish site’s staffers—or their eventual fates.
“This is the first step in our efforts to create local language editions of our journalism,” Brown wrote in the Aug. 31 note, obtained by The Daily Beast. “In the coming months we’ll see more of our brands published in additional languages. We’re confident we’ll be bringing new and expanding audiences to our sites.”
The layoffs were disclosed by a Gizmodo en Español staffer that same day, who noted the discrepancy between the company’s public and private stance. “Hello friends,” reporter Matías S. Zavia wrote on Twitter. “On Tuesday they shut down @GizmodoES to turn it into a translation self-publisher (an AI took my job, literally).”
A G/O Media spokesperson would not comment beyond the contents of the memo. A source familiar with the company’s plans said G/O was employing Google Translate for the translations and the change was planned months before AI tests began.
An analysis by Futurism noted that the automated-translated articles were often improperly translated or, in some cases, not fully translated at all. Some articles suffered from formatting and punctuation errors, while a recent recap of the Star Wars series Ahsoka contained HTML code displayed on the published version of the story. Despite these issues, a source claimed the site’s traffic has doubled since it moved to automated translations.
“This move to eliminate the Español team represents yet another broken promise from G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller and Editorial Director Merrill Brown, who have repeatedly said that the company’s AI experiments were intended to supplement human writing, not replace it,” the Gizmodo Media Group Union wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, adding that the company removed the four Español staffers’ bylines from their published articles. The employees that were laid off were not union employees.
The company announced in late June it would begin testing AI-produced stories across its properties through listicles and data, expanding its approach last month to pieces in The A.V. Club and to slideshows in Jalopnik. The company’s recent moves under Spanfeller have left some staffers infuriated and prompted Jezebel editor-in-chief Laura Bassett to resign last month, as reported by The Daily Beast’s media newsletter Confider. In a statement at the time, a G/O Media spokesperson committed to avoiding AI-induced layoffs.
“We see AI as a supplement to our editorial workflow, not a replacement. We do not plan on laying off editorial staff due to AI activities,” he said.