Sports Illustrated CEO Fired Over AI Content Scandal


Ross Levinsohn, CEO of The Arena Group and publisher of Sports Illustrated, was recently fired from his position following the revelation that the iconic sports media brand had published articles written by artificial intelligence (AI) without properly disclosing their automated origins. This deception led to intense backlash and accusations that Sports Illustrated was misleading its readership.

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Discovery of the AI-generated articles

In early December 2022, the technology publication Futurism broke the story that Sports Illustrated had released several articles under fake author names that appeared to be written by AI systems. The bylines were of people who didn’t seem to exist – like ‘Skylar Stevens’ – and were accompanied by AI-generated headshots.

Further investigation revealed that the content of the articles had been licensed by Advon Commerce, an e-commerce solutions company that works with online retailers and publishers. Advon writers used pseudonyms to write pieces for different clients to protect individual privacy. However, Sports Illustrated did not properly disclose that the articles were AI-powered.

Sports Illustrated’s behavior is causing outrage

Initially, The Arena Group denied claims that the content was AI-generated. As media scrutiny increased, the publisher changed course, acknowledging that Advon did use pseudonyms but stating that its writers were still human. Sports Illustrated quickly removed the AI ​​content in question when the backlash increased.

Many journalists and industry watchers heavily criticized Sports Illustrated’s lack of transparency regarding its use of AI. Some viewed publishing automated content under fake human names as an ethical breach and accused the brand of misleading and defrauding its audience.

Levinsohn resigned from his position as CEO

Within a week of the scandal breaking, The Arena Group fired Ross Levinsohn from his dual role as CEO of the parent company and publisher of Sports Illustrated. His resignation was characterized as an effort to “improve operating efficiencies and accelerate revenue growth.”

However, the timing of Levinsohn’s ouster, on the heels of the AI ​​article controversy, suggested that this was a direct result of the intense scrutiny Sports Illustrated faced. Under his leadership, the integrity of the brand had been compromised.

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Broader Executive Shakeup at The Arena Group

Along with Levinsohn, several other top executives also left The Arena Group, in what appeared to be fallout from the AI ​​debacle. These included COO Andrew Kraft, media president Rob Barrett and in-house counsel Julie Fenster.

Manoj Bhargava, the billionaire founder of 5-Hour Energy Drink, has been appointed as interim CEO. However, his spokesperson emphasized that the leadership change was not related to Sports Illustrated’s issues around AI content.

Concerns around generative AI in journalism

The scandal has sparked a broader debate about media organizations’ increasing use of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to automate certain aspects of news production. While AI assistance can help extended newsrooms operate more efficiently, fully automated content raises concerns about disinformation, media transparency and replacing human journalists.

Following Sports Illustrated’s missteps, several prominent news organizations have released guidelines explaining their AI approaches to the public. Finding the right balance between the use of AI and traditional journalistic values ​​around truth and transparency will remain an ongoing discussion.

The Arena Group continues to work to rebuild trust in its brands and ensure it maintains good editorial standards that match iconic mastheads such as Sports Illustrated. How this groundbreaking sports media brand responds in the coming months will be an example of how publishers can responsibly deploy AI technology without misleading loyal readers who expect articles written by real people, not machines.

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