Screenshot of CNET logo. Image Credit: CNET
Around 100 workers are unionizing at CNET, a popular tech news and product review site, in response to a “lack of transparency” from management regarding layoffs and the company’s use of AI, according to an announcement by the union Tuesday. The announcement comes just a few months after journalists at Futurism revealed that CNET had published articles written by AI instead of by its writers—articles which contained a multitude of extremely basic errors—and that it had not properly disclosed that fact to its team. Despite these developments in CNET’s content creation, a representative for the union said that organizing had started long before.
“The organizing campaign at CNET started before the news of AI at our outlet,” the representative said. “Forming a union was a very human decision that allowed us to come together to bring the highest standards to our work and to maintain the integrity of CNET as a trusted source. We need the same protections and assurances that other digital media shops have secured through union contracts, especially as new technologies are introduced.”The workers, who include writers, editors, and video producers, will join the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), as the CNET Media Workers Union. WGAE is also responsible for unionizing numerous other online media sites, and represents 7,000 workers in industries like film, news, and online media. (This includes VICE Union, which represents Motherboard staff.)“The digital media landscape is transforming rapidly,” reads a letter written to CNET management explaining the workers’ choice to organize. “In this time of instability, our diverse content teams need industry-standard job protections, fair compensation, editorial independence and a voice in the decision-making process, especially as automated technology threatens our jobs and reputations. A union will help us adapt to new business strategies while establishing high journalistic standards and practices.” The rapid development of AI models like ChatGPT-4 has recently caused lots of concern in writing industries. The ongoing film and TV writers’ strike has labeled AI as a serious point of contention between workers and management, and the union wants to “regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies” in its contract to protect writers’ jobs. AI isn’t yet good enough to replace a team of writers, but it is cheaper. A second major point raised by the CNET Media Workers Union letter addresses layoffs and “restructuring” after the company’s acquisition by Red Venture in 2020. “CNET media workers have been subjected to ongoing restructuring, cost-cutting austerity measures, shifting job roles and promotion freezes,” the letter reads. “In the past year, three major rounds of layoffs have deeply impacted our reporting and our teams. Red Ventures cut senior editorial positions, eliminated the Roadshow cars section, drastically slashed our video team, gutted our news division and shut down science and culture coverage. These unilateral overhauls created low morale and unease, resulting in a wave of resignations and talent attrition.” “We face a lack of transparency and accountability from management around performance evaluations, sponsored content and plans for artificial intelligence,” it continues. “We are concerned about the blurring of editorial and monetization strategies.”The union is asking CNET and Red Ventures for voluntary recognition. CNET did not respond to a request for comment.