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June 13, 2024, 3:56 p.m.
Business Models

Business Insider’s owner signed a huge OpenAI deal. ChatGPT still won’t credit the site’s biggest scoops

“We are…deeply worried that despite this partnership, OpenAI may be downplaying rather than elevating our works,” Business Insider’s union wrote in a letter to management.

On Wednesday, the Insider Union called on Business Insider management to share details on the licensing deal it inked with OpenAI late last year. The letter, obtained by Nieman Lab and addressed to Business Insider CEO Barbara Peng and chief revenue officer Maggie Milnamow, represents a growing demand in newsrooms for transparency about the terms of contracts between news publishers and AI developers.

Among several requests, the letter asked management to share a full copy of OpenAI’s contract with its parent company, Axel Springer, or at minimum the sections of the contract that concern Business Insider. In December 2023, Bloomberg reported that OpenAI is set to pay “tens of millions of euros” to Axel Springer over the next three years, as part of its licensing deal.

“With this partnership, ChatGPT users around the world will receive summaries of selected global news content from Axel Springer’s media brands,” read a statement released at the time by the Berlin-based media company, which also owns Politico and the German tabloid Bild. “ChatGPT’s answers to user queries will include attribution and links to the full articles for transparency and further information.”

The Insider Union has taken issue with this part of the deal, in particular — the promise that ChatGPT will link out to Business Insider articles when it responds to user queries. According to the union, management had framed ChatGPT as a new potential source of referral traffic or, at minimum, a growing source of visibility for their reporting. The letter claims that despite these promises, ChatGPT currently is actually undermining their editorial work.

“We are…deeply worried that despite this partnership, OpenAI may be downplaying rather than elevating our works,” reads the letter, signed by union steward and investigative reporter Katherine Long and other union members. “Repeated efforts by unit members have been unable to prompt ChatGPT to link directly to our scoops, even when explicitly instructed to do so.”

Starting in late 2021, Business Insider published two investigations into sexual misconduct allegations against Barstool Sports owner Dave Portnoy. It was a banner story for the publication, which was subsequently sued for defamation by Portnoy. (That case was ultimately dismissed).

In screenshots included in the letter, union members prompted ChatGPT, using its latest GPT-4o model, to “search the web for news related to” these allegations. ChatGPT did not link to Business Insider’s original reporting, instead linking to aggregations of those stories by The Independent (U.K.) and Yahoo News. Neither of those outlets has announced a partnership with OpenAI like the one signed by Axel Springer. (Yahoo reportedly works with OpenAI for some content on its Yahoo News app.)

In 2022, Business Insider reporter Julia Black broke the story about Elon Musk fathering twins with a top Neuralink executive, Shivon Zilis. In another screenshot included in the letter, union members prompted ChatGPT to search the web for information about the Musk story.

In one instance, ChatGPT linked out to a article with the first photos Elon Musk released of the twins. In another instance, it linked to an article on the website Market Realist, which doesn’t properly attribute Black’s reporting, instead simply reading “according to reports.”

When union members prompted ChatGPT even more directly to name the first outlet that reported the Musk story, and to provide a link to that story, ChatGPT did in fact provide a link to The link, however, appears to have been a hallucination.

The slug provided by ChatGPT, “elon-musk-had-twins-with-neuralink-executive-shivon-zillis-2022-7,” directs users to a “404 page not found” error on The actual article link uses the slug “elon-musk-shivon-zilis-secret-twins-neuralink-tesla.”

I was able to replicate these errors in ChatGPT myself. When prompted to name the outlet that broke the Dave Portnoy investigation, ChatGPT correctly identified Insider but hallucinated an incorrect URL. It used a seemingly fabricated slug: “barstool-sports-dave-portnoy-sexual-misconduct-allegations-report-2021-11,” instead of one for the many stories on that covered the allegations.

The union was, in some instances, able to prompt correct links to subdomains, including Business Insider India and Business Insider Africa.

In a statement to Nieman Lab, an OpenAI spokesperson said the type of citation promised in its licensing deals has not gone live yet. “Together with our news publisher partners, we’re building an experience that blends conversational capabilities with their latest news content, ensuring proper attribution and linking to source material — an enhanced experience still in development and not yet available in ChatGPT,” said the spokesperson.

This sentiment was recently echoed by Tom Rubin, OpenAI’s chief of intellectual property and content. At the WAN-IFRA World News Media Conference in May, he said a “significant component” of the media deals involve displaying partner content but “you haven’t yet seen it in our products.” OpenAI did not share when these display features would go live or answer questions about ChatGPT’s current citations of Business Insider articles, including the links to nonexistent article pages.

Business Insider did not answer my questions in time for publication. But in an email sent to all staff last week, CEO Barbara Peng recommitted to the publication’s OpenAI partnership.

“One of the many reasons I am so proud of our deal with OpenAI is that it set the precedent that in an SGE [search generative experience] we must be compensated for the use of our work,” Peng wrote. “We have also known for some time that we cannot rely on external referrals as a significant driver of traffic. We must build long-term, deep relationships with our readers that compel them to come back to us.”

The last several weeks have seen a wave of new licensing deals between OpenAI and major news publishers, including The Financial Times, The Atlantic, and NewsCorp. Despite the momentum for inking deals with AI developers, there continues to be little transparency within major newsrooms about the terms of these contracts.

That is particularly true for editorial staff — and freelancers — whose written work may be used to train foundational large language models (LLMs) that power generative AI tools, including ChatGPT, and whose original reporting may be filtered into ChatGPT’s responses through web browsing and information retrieval features, in some instances without correct attribution.

Last month, The Atlantic Union and New York Magazine Union both published statements demanding more transparency around the new licensing deals their respective employers have signed with OpenAI.

The letter from the Insider Union meanwhile cites a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) clause that requires employers to “bargain in good faith” as cause for demanding management share the OpenAI contract with union representatives. That clause, in part, requires furnishing unions with information “relevant to the bargaining process, or the employees’ terms or conditions of employment.”

“This partnership has direct ramifications for our members who are covered under a contract. As a result, we are legally entitled to the information,” said Jennifer Sheehan, a spokesperson for The NewsGuild of New York. If Business Insider doesn’t comply, the union may be entitled to file an unfair labor practice charge.

In recent years, Business Insider has taken a particularly hardline approach to measuring the performance of reporters and editors via analytics benchmarks, including article traffic and subscription sign-ups. Discipline based on these metrics was central to the Insider Union’s 13-day strike in the summer of 2023.

“Many of us have performance targets related to pageviews and impact. How are we to gauge pageviews for a story surfaced by ChatGPT, especially if ChatGPT refuses to link to it?” asked the authors of the letter. “How are we to make arguments about the impact of our work if we have no insight into how our work is being used by OpenAI?”

The union has given Business Insider management until next Wednesday, June 19 to send them a copy of its OpenAI contract.

Andrew Deck is a generative AI staff writer at Nieman Lab. Have tips about how AI is being used in your newsroom? You can reach Andrew via email (, Twitter (@decka227), or Signal (+1 203-841-6241).
POSTED     June 13, 2024, 3:56 p.m.
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