OpenAI is on a quest to conquer the world—and it’s doing pretty well on that front. It’s ascended to the heights of industry. It’s managed to suck up to politicians in countries scattered across the globe. And now it’s begun a charm offensive aimed at an entirely new sphere of influence: the news media.
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On Tuesday, the AI startup announced that it had partnered with the American Journalism Project, a venture philanthropy organization that doles out grants to non-profit newsrooms across the country. The goal of this new friendship? To “explore how AI tools can assist local newsrooms,” says OpenAI. What is the AJP getting out of it, exactly? OpenAI plans to dole out a pitiful $5 million to the philanthropy to be used in various AI-related efforts. Considering OpenAI’s current net worth, this is basically the equivalent of throwing a dollar bill out the window of a moving limousine and yelling “good luck!” to the lucky street denizen who catches it.
But hey, it’s free money. Sort of. And AJP is excited about it. “To ensure local journalism remains an essential pillar of our democracy, we need to be smart about the potential powers and pitfalls of new technology,” said AJP CEO Sarabeth Berman. “In these early days of generative AI, we have the opportunity to ensure that local news organizations, and their communities, are involved in shaping its implications. With this partnership, we aim to promote ways for AI to enhance — rather than imperil — journalism.”
How is this money going to enhance journalism? According to a press release, AJP plans to use the money from OpenAI to build a “technology and AI studio.” This studio will be led by a team that “will assess the applications of AI within the local news sector.” When they figure out what those applications are, the team will share them with AJP’s partnered newsrooms and teach them how to take advantage of them. Additionally, another $5 million in API credits will be doled out to AJP and its partner orgs, which will be used to “build and use tools utilizing the technology.” Finally, AJP plans to use remaining funds to disperse direct grants to its partner organizations that can be used to set up AI pilot programs.
In short: OpenAI really wants to get newsrooms hooked on artificial intelligence and is doling out free samples to see if it takes.
The new partnership with AJP is part of a broader effort by OpenAI to get the news media on its side. For a burgeoning tech Goliath, this makes a lot of sense. After all, other tech companies have already learned that they can siphon off large parts of the news media’s profit base if they turn around and dole out a few grants once in awhile. So, despite the significant disruptions that AI could have on the media landscape, OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, clearly wants to be seen as a valiant savior of journalism, not its destroyer. On that front, an arguably much bigger victory than the recent AJP deal took place last week when a partnership between OpenAI and the Associated Press was announced. Under the agreement, OpenAI will be given access to part of the AP’s large text archive, while the AP will get to use OpenAI’s tools in an effort to “examine potential use cases for generative AI in news products and services.”
Kristin Heitmann, AP senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said last week that she was pleased that “OpenAI recognizes that fact-based, nonpartisan news content is essential to this evolving technology, and that they respect the value of our intellectual property.”
Despite Heitmann’s optimism, it’s hard not to see the AP’s decision to partner with OpenAI as somewhat stupid. Not even amounting to a proper Faustian bargain (in which a corrupted party trades their soul for access to wealth or knowledge), the partnership doesn’t seem to offer the AP much. The news organization claims that it will be allowed to “leverage OpenAI’s technology and product expertise” as part of the deal but hasn’t really elaborated on what that means. OpenAI, meanwhile, is obviously gaining a lot: instead of having to scrape data from all over the web to train its content generating algorithms (a practice that has led to a monsoon of lawsuits and accusations of “theft”), it now gets to suck data out of a reputable news organization. This simultaneously buys the startup legitimacy and clout in the media world while also charting it a legally safer pathway for its data mining operations.
Gizmodo sent emails to the American Journalism Project and the Associated Press asking them to explain themselves and will update this story if they respond.