AI Killed Illustrations… For Now

I am one of a few millennials who actually read old school media as a kid. First it was the sports section of local newspapers here in Chicago. Then when I was nine years old one the holiday/birthday gifts my parents got me was a subscription to Sports Illustrated since we only had one TV at home and I always wanted to watch ESPN but the did not want me to be staying up late to watch sports news on school nights.

As a result of this and having read Sports Illustrated in the print form for most of my life until 2020 when the world shut down and I stopped paying for a subscription I’ve been paying close attention since the beginning of last year when some news sites I follow started clearly using ChatGPT and other forms of AI to write their stories. I saw the death of Sports Illustrated coming from ten miles away once AI started taking over in the middle of 2023 when CNET, the tech news site, got caught using AI to write dozens of articles and got caught.

On Saturday my fellow writer, Steve Leblang, wrote a wonderful article about the fall of Sports Illustrated. Then on Sunday a weekly round table about technology news which I listen to, This Week in Tech, they discussed the topic. My article was mostly written when I woke up on on Wednesday, January, 24th. However, in my gut I knew they would discuss the fall of print media using Sports Illustrated center of attention on another weekly podcast which I listen to, This Week in Google. because journalism expert Jeff Jarvis is part of the weekly roundtable. So, I waited to make my post live in case I wanted to be sure my view stayed the same. Not only did they discuss the debacle but Jeff also wrote about the topic of giving up on old media on his blog over at Buzz Machine.

Now, let’s look at the history of Sports Illustrated as it dies a slow painful death thank you to AI. The weekly sports magazine first hit the press in August 1954. Sports Illustrated took at least eleven years to make money depending on who you listen to and was the only nationally released form of weekly sports news for twenty-five years before The Walt Disney Company and Hearst Communications launched cable television network ESPN in 1979. ESPN would quickly overtake sports news excellence thanks to having the ability to cover sports on television and nationally broadcasting live sporting events.

It was not until nearly twenty years later in March of 1998 that ESPN started releasing a magazine and they only released it every other week, not weekly. Then the internet took over and ESPN The Magazine was essentially dead by 2016 when they went down to a monthly magazine and completely went goodbye way when they released their last issue in September 2019, thanks to the increasing take over of the internet and the advent of websites with pay walls.

Sports Illustrated was owned by Time, Inc until 2018 when Meredith Corporation sold it to Authentic Brands Group (ABG). They would quickly license the SI branding out to The Arena Group, formally know as The Maven, on a 10-year licensing deal making Arena Group responsible for editorial operations of the publication. However, The Arena Group missed their quarterly licensing payment earlier this month forcing ABG to lay off nearly the entire staff of the magazine over a seven minute zoom call on January 19, 2024.

Here’s the thing folks, at the end of the day ABG did not lay off the staff of Sports Illustrated cause of the missed payment by The Arena Group. Nope, Arena Group caught their staff using AI to write articles and decided to forfeit the licensing and cease operations. The editorial operations of the 70 year old brand will likely be licensed out to another organization sometime soon by ABG.

Will it be ESPN? Only Time, pun intended, will tell.

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