View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Publishers
  2. National Newspapers
February 22, 2024updated 08 Mar 2024 11:32am

Reach using AI to speed up ‘ripping’ and use same article on multiple sites

Gutenbot has also been used to rewrite police press releases and agency copy.

By Bron Maher

Reach is rolling out an AI tool that enables its journalists to quickly rewrite stories which have already appeared on other sites within its network.

Since late January the Mirror, Express and Liverpool Echo publisher has been holding weekly drop-in training sessions for staff on how to use its new in-house AI tool, Gutenbot.

A significant amount of content on Reach’s network of local and national news is rewritten or reposted from sister sites. Rewrites enable the company to get more traffic out of the same content without duplicating it.

However, having large amounts of content on a site which is exactly duplicated elsewhere on the web is believed to negatively impact Google search rankings, a major source of traffic for many publishers.

Guten, as Reach’s new bot is referred to by employees, speeds up what is known internally as “ripping”, whereby one Reach site rewrites an article from another.

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Rather than rewriting an entire article, Guten makes a selection of changes, for example swapping in synonyms or re-phrasing passages, without changing the meaning of the text.

Content from our partners
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it

But staff have expressed concern that articles written using Guten are not always flagged to readers as such, which they worry may have a negative effect on audience trust.

The company told staff in January that Guten “utilises AI to free up time spent on repetitive tasks” and that where already in use it had “supported an increase in page views and article volume, as well as [helping] to break news quicker than competitors”.

Guten appears to have been trialled at the Mirror and OK! from November. It was already in use by at least 20 Reach titles by the time the rest of the company was invited to training in late January.

What is Guten, or Gutenbot, Reach’s editorial AI co-pilot?

Reach describes Guten as “a Reach-owned AI product” that assists editorial staff by generating “titles, headlines, lead text and body copy”. Press Gazette understands that as well as rips from Reach content, Guten is used to rewrite wire agency copy and, in some cases, police press releases.

Guten users are presented with an input panel, into which they paste the text they want to rewrite, and an output panel showing the new version. Any changes made by Guten are highlighted, and any errors in those changes are to be reported back to the company by the user.

Error categories to be reported back to Reach include missed entities or quotes – things that were mentioned or said in the original story but omitted from Guten’s version – and hallucinated, i.e. fabricated, entities or quotes.

After making any necessary amendments, Reach asks all journalists publishing a story written with Guten to add the URL to a spreadsheet so the company can keep a database of all its AI-involved articles. Guten also registers the differences between the story it suggested and the version that got published in order to inform its future edits.

Reach’s editorial co-pilot resembles the bot used by AI–assisted reporters at Gannett-owned regional news publisher, Newsquest, which also features an input-output display and requires a journalist to check the generated copy.

[Read more: How Newsquest and its seven AI-assisted reporters are using ChatGPT]

At least some of the Reach stories created with Guten feature a note at the end saying: “This article was crafted with the help of an AI engine, which speeds up [the publication]’s editorial research and applies it to article templates created by journalists in our newsrooms. A [publication] editor reviewed this content before it was published. You can report any errors to [publication email address].”

One AI-assisted story on MyLondon appears to be based on property sales data and reports on the seemingly routine sale of a flat in south London. Another, on OK!, is a version of a story about a Strictly Come Dancing result which appeared on other Reach websites. A third covered actress Christina Applegate’s appearance at the Emmy Awards.

Reach chief executive Jim Mullen told the Financial Times in February last year that the business had formed a working group tasked with figuring out how generative AI could be implemented within the group. That news came on the heels of a round of redundancies at Reach, and 2023 ultimately saw more than 700 jobs cut at the company.

Reach brand My London is currently advertising for a dedicated AI content editor role. The job description says the successful candidate will “manage content created in partnership with Reach’s approved AI systems, developing teams and ensuring audience targets are met”.

What do staff think of Reach’s AI tool?

Two Reach journalists told Press Gazette their teams had been instructed to collectively produce five stories per day using the tool.

“It’s ramped up in the last few weeks,” said a reporter on one title. They said that toward the end of a recent shift they were asked by an editor to quickly produce several Guten-assisted articles, and that the editor alluded to quotas they had been set for AI article production.

“We all hate it so much because the way it writes articles is just so verbose, so shit,” said the reporter, although they added that it had improved.

They said: “When it works, it does work well, because it writes it really, really quickly. But obviously, it’s just so depressing – it’s the definition of a robot taking your job. It can write an article for you in five minutes. 

“Mainly they use it to syndicate other Reach articles. I just don’t understand why they don’t have a system that means Reach articles are somehow syndicated through the CMS by the reporter who’s first written it anyway.”

The journalist added that while there used to be a disclosure at the bottom of articles that were written with the assistance of generative AI, those notes no longer appear. Press Gazette could not find any articles published in the last three weeks featuring the disclosure that used to appear.

Press Gazette understands the Reach NUJ Group Chapel has written to company management to complain about the apparent removal of the disclosures.

Another Reach journalist, working on a national title, said the company was enthusiastically promoting Guten among staff.

The journalist was not particularly concerned about the bot’s quality, saying Guten “just flips synonyms and makes it more house style-y depending on the title…

“It’s largely okay. And then you’ll just get one that’s given you a totally incorrect headline or it’s completely missed the story, so it has to be rewritten or edited again.” 

As well as its other tasks, Guten writes image captions. A separate Reach staffer told Press Gazette it had memorably described a couple in a photo as a “plate of eggs and beans”.

But the national Reach journalist said Guten had “certainly saved time, and has proven to be extremely useful in our ever-shrinking teams at weekends, etcetera, when we just need content live and quickly”.

A third Reach reporter, this one at a local title, was more sceptical: “Obviously there’s a lot of work that still goes into reviewing the copy, making sure it’s accurate, making sure that quotes aren’t being fabricated – and then doing all of the usual sort of page furniture stuff that you have to do on the back end so that things look good on the front end.

“So it seems like the company basically wants us to use it as part of what seems to be their strategy to just pump out as much content as possible.”

They said that the apparent removal of AI disclosures from stories “is a continuation of diluting the local brands that allegedly we want to protect and we want to create quality journalism for, and instead replacing it with easily churned out copy that anyone could write for any website or any blog or any Facebook profile, rather than actually spending the time building contacts, getting out into the community – all of the things that make good journalism”.

Neither of the Reach Local Democracy Reporters with whom Press Gazette spoke had received Guten training, although one said they knew their copy had been ripped using it.

What has Reach said about its AI articles?

Asked for comment, a Reach spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Like many media businesses we have been exploring how to best use AI tools to support our journalists in their day-to-day work.

“Following a year of very cautious and controlled testing, we are now rolling this out across more newsrooms and we will continue to work closely with all our teams in navigating the risks and opportunities.”

They did not respond to specific questions about AI article production quotas or whether AI disclosures had been dropped from articles.

In an earlier note to staff, Reach said Guten exists to make employees’ jobs easier.

“Gutenbot is in no way designed to replace editorial staff,” the company said.

“Yes, it generates text, but editorial review will always be required to verify the accuracy of that text… It’s best to think of Gutenbot as a junior reporter whose draft copy tends to require some checks and tweaks by an experienced editor.

“The need for editorial to review AI rewrites is absolutely crucial, especially when it comes to quotes, given the possible legal risks and ramifications involved.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network