The aftermath of ChatGPT’s launch leaves media industry battling profitability with layoffs

By Conrad Egusa Published: 28 March, 2024


Since generative AI (GenAI) first burst onto the scene in November of 2022, its potential has seen industries from entertainment to insurance questioning how the cutting-edge technology would impact operations and job roles. 

A survey unveiled to private and public leaders in Switzerland at this year’s Davos Summit found that a quarter of global chief executives expected the deployment of AI to lead to headcount reductions of at least 5% in 2024.

The above being said, it’s arguable that the media industry is the sector that’s already been the most impacted. According to the Press Gazette, there have been more than 1500 journalism job cuts so far in 2024, with 983 occurring in January and 615 in February in the UK, Ireland, US and Canada.

Here, disruption from GenAI isn’t a future concern but an already-present reality that’s changing the face of how companies operate. Media publications have already conducted a number of cost-saving exercises that largely focus on staff cuts. Meanwhile, examples of content production being outsourced to AI leave many deeply concerned. 

Let’s take a closer look at how the media industry continues to be affected by GenAI. 

Layoffs across major media outlets 

2023 was a year of huge layoffs in the media industry, in addition to closures of news sites. The dismissals at CNN and Gannett were the first major slate of cuts since the beginning of COVID-19, when companies were firing workers due to the economic unpredictability of the pandemic. 

However, with inflation and concerns having risen to new heights globally over the past 12 months, media enterprises looked to adapt by letting go of hundreds of additional employees and closing down divisions to stay afloat. Buzzfeed let go of 180 employees and shut down its Buzzfeed News division, while Paper Magazine fired its entire editorial staff. 

Meanwhile, Vice Media laid off 100 staff members and closed down its Vice World News brand. 

Insider Inc, previously Business Insider, announced that 10% of its staff would be cut, while Disney’s broadcast news division ABC News laid off 50 people. 

Although these numbers are in the hundreds and may not seem as severe as tens of thousands of job cuts at media giants like Meta, these newsrooms are much smaller operations that have been struggling to remain profitable in the digital age. In reality, these numbers represent a significant downsizing of the total newsroom team from some of the world’s most popular global outlets. 

As we look ahead, the added pressures of economic volatility and uncertainty, combined with continued advances in GenAI, leave many questioning what’s next for the media industry. 

The worrying rise of AI-produced content 

Although many publications openly reject articles that have used AI for submissions such as Op-Eds, other outlets seem to be comfortable outsourcing some areas of content production to AI. 

To give an example, Buzzfeed’s famous “listicles” and quizzes are now created using AI, the news of which resulted in the company’s stock doubling. CNET also began using AI to create around 75 personal finance articles, but impeded trials due to factual errors. 

This highlights how some media companies are exploring AI and how it may be leveraged. However, this is a concerning trend that leaves many wondered where the path will lead to. For one, with reports of Microsoft investing 10 billion dollars to further develop OpenAI technologies, it’s highly likely that we’ll see new use cases open up in the future.

This means newsrooms may be increasingly under-minded by the technology, particularly if they choose to adopt it themselves. 

Unfortunately, it’s increasingly difficult for media companies to remain profitable in the face of new technologies and subdued economic conditions. The media industry has experienced huge losses over the last decade, with newsroom employment falling 26% since 2008, and that’s before GenAI hit the scene. 

Although the technology boosts efficiency and saves money in the short term, the impact on quality and journalistic standards may not be as desirable. 

Additionally, the decision by Google to remove all AI-generated SEO content to clean up search results for organic content should have large ramifications on the use of GenAI technology in this sector. The decision, outlined in a blog post last week, signifies a significant shift in Google’s approach and could impact the overall quality of online content.

According to Google, this change involves improvements to its ranking systems. The improvements will primarily target three types of content abuse, with automated content via I being the most prominent.

While the use of AI may help reduce costs and is an exciting venture for many tech companies and enthusiasts, the overall outlook of the effects this has on media and tech employees seems rather to be determined.