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Fake journalist title to move from online newspaper to blog after HTFP probe

James GarrettA local news website launched with fake journalist profiles and questionable AI-created content will be turned into a blog, its creator has confirmed.

Bournemouth Observer editor Paul Giles is set to remove references to the title being a “newspaper” along with the ‘headline’ section of the website.

The site was originally launched last month with bizarrely-written profiles of 11 ‘journalists’ it claimed to have on staff, including “esteemed editor” David Roberts and “middle-aged journalist” Simon Foster.

However an investigation by HTFP revealed it had used photos from a stock picture archive to illustrate the profiles which Mr Giles later admitted were “pseudonyms.”

Some of the news content on the site also raised questions about the use of artificial intelligence after police failed to find any record of two incidents it had reported.

Mr Giles denied posting fictional stories onto the site, but admitted some of the content had been “polished” with AI and using what he termed “creative placeholders” to fill blank spaces.

We also revealed yesterday that the Observer is linked through its IP address to a series of other Dorset businesses including an antiques shop, of which Mr Giles is listed as owner on LinkedIn, a digital marketing operation and a life coaching business.

Now, in an email to the South West branch of the National Union of Journalists, Mr Giles has confirmed his intention to move the Observer away from being a news-based project.

Following our revelations, the branch had issued a warning on how fake sites could steal revenue from genuine regional and local publishers.

Its chair James Garrett, pictured, then contacted Mr Giles regarding our findings, urging him to come clean about who he was and what he was trying to do.

James wrote: “You might have saved yourself a lot of grief over the past week if you’d been honest about who you are, what you’re trying to do and how you’re going about it.

“Pretending there’s a huge machine behind you was never going to work for long.

“Your news site provokes some interesting questions about transparency, accountability and trust, as well as the use of AI in an arena which relies on facts and truths.

“You do not publish the address from which you trade nor does the BO carry an imprint.”

In response, Mr Giles said: “Actually I agree with all of your points, the problem is combining web marketing, which is my background, with a newspaper site.

“Anyway I’ve thought about this long and hard, the intimidation or HTFP stories don’t bother me as not invested in my pride or reputation for that matter, however I can see that my actions have caused discord and that’s something I don’t want.

“So I’ve decided I’ll turn my site into a blog, it’s only a hobby anyway and not my main work.

“I’m going to take off any references to a newspaper and replace with blog and I’m going to do away with the headline section. Still not sure where I’m going with it in reality as it’s not my income business.”

Commenting to HTFP, James said: “News journalism is too serious a business for amateurs seeking a new hobby.

“I wouldn’t pretend to know enough about antiques to open an antiques shop. Likewise, the truth about what’s happening in our communities is best reported by people who know what they are doing and not left to an army of bots, which have no way of sorting fact from fiction.

“Mr Giles asked me to treat his remarks as off-the-record but what he is saying adds an important new element to the debate.

“I made no offer to him to do so, nor did I reach out to him as a private citizen. I was clearly approaching him as chair of a union branch representing over 1,000 journalists. Their reputations and livelihoods could be put at stake by ill-thought-out ventures such as this.”

Our original story sparked an industry debate about the use of AI in local news and led Public Interest News Foundation director Jonathan Heawood to warn that AI will drive a further wedge between local news outlets and readers.

HTFP has approached the Observer for further comment.