Union chiefs have called on the people behind a news website which used fake journalist profiles to “come clean” about their use of AI following an HTFP expose.
Our investigation into the Bournemouth Observer has prompted the South-West England branch of the National Union of Journalists to issue a warning on how fake sites could steal revenue from genuine regional titles.
We revealed that the Observer had used images from a stock picture archive to illustrate a series of bizarrely-written profiles of its ‘journalists’, which have now been deleted.
They included ‘esteemed editor’ David Roberts, ‘middle-aged journalist’ Simon Foster and motoring writer William Alexander – said to be a “seasoned journalist with over 15 years of experience in the realm of automotive journalism”
Further questions were raised when Dorset Police confirmed to HTFP it had no record of two incidents covered by the Observer, which also offers advertising opportunities on its site.
Paul Giles, a representative of the site, was unable to confirm that the ‘journalists’ were real people, or whether AI had been used in compiling the stories on the site.
Now the local NUJ branch has called on Mr Giles to come clean on whether the site really has any staff and if not who is writing the stories.
Branch chair James Garrett said: “If they don’t exist, as looks likely, then who’s writing the copy published on the site?”
Added James: “We have close to 1,000 members in the South-West and many of them have been around a long time. Those in Dorset have never heard of reporter Simon Foster, supposedly ‘an acclaimed local voice in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch’.
“Nor were any bells rung by the name of the supposed editor, David Roberts, who has allegedly ‘lent his expertise and leadership to the newspaper for several years’ – despite it only launching one month ago.
“Of course, if they, or motoring writer William Alexander or any of the other named journalists do exist in real life, the NUJ would be very happy to have a discussion with them about joining the union.”
“The Observer does carry advertisements on the site and may be making money. This could only be at the expense of existing – and genuine – newspapers and news sites staffed by real people, whom we represent.
“For a range of reasons, the business of producing local newspapers has been getting harder for years.
“The last thing the industry needs is advertisers being persuaded to spend money on a fake news site at the expense of those publications which do still try to inform readers in their areas and seek to hold the authorities to account.
“To do that you need real journalists, not bots – however ‘dedicated and renowned for their ability to make complex issues relatable.'”
The probe has sparked an industry-wide debate about the use of AI tools, with journalists sharing fears about the prospect of fake local news titles launching around the country.
Mr Giles has been approached for further comment.