Atlantic Union, ‘Alarmed’ by OpenAI Deal, Demands Management ‘Immediately’ Disclose Terms ‘Without Spin’ SuperNayr

The Union representing staff at The Atlantic said Thursday it is “alarmed” by the magazine’s new licensing agreement with OpenAI, and is now demanding that management make the terms of this deal public “immediately,” and “without spin.”

On Wednesday, the publisher announced a multi-year licensing and product development deal that will give OpenAI access to content archives and current content for use in training ChatGPT. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In its statement, the union said its members — which include employees in editorial as well as The Atlantic’s business and technology units — are “deeply troubled by the opaque agreement… especially by management’s complete lack of transparency about what the agreement entails and how it will affect our work.”

ChatGPT on laptop screen, provided by Getty

The Atlantic failed to properly inform employees of the deal, the union said, forcing them to learn bout it “from outside sources.” Furthermore, instead of responding to questions, both the company and OpenAI “directed staffers to the very same outside reporting,” the union said.

The union demands that management “immediately make the terms of the deal available,” to staffers and and then address questions “clearly, and without spin,” in an all-hands meeting. 

“The people who continue to maintain and serve The Atlantic deserve to know what precisely management has licensed to an outside firm and how, specifically, they plan to use the archive of our creative output and our work product,” the union also said. 

The Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg backed the Union’s statement in a social media post, calling the company’s behavior “quite something and demanding that OpenAI “answer questions from reporters, particularly those from affected journalism organizations.”

News Corp CEO Robert Thompson

OpenAI faces multiple lawsuits over alleged unlawful use of copyrighted material. Major media companies have also taken steps to block data scraping by ChatGPT, among them Disney and CNN. The company is also under investigation by the SEC over whether it has misled investors, and it faces a FTC antitrust investigation over its relationship with Microsoft.

It is under that environment that OpenAI has struck several recent deals with media companies, among them News Corp., The AP, DotDash Meredith and Axel Springer.

Read the union’s full statement below:

The unionized members of The Atlantic Editorial and Business and Technology units are deeply troubled by the opaque agreement The Atlantic has made with OpenAI, and especially by management’s complete lack of transparency about what the agreement entails and how it will affect our work. Atlantic staffers have largely learned of this agreement from outside sources, and both the company and OpenAI have refused to answer questions about the terms of the deal. Instead, they’ve directed staffers to the very same outside reporting. 

The Atlantic has defended the values of transparency and intellectual honesty for more than 160 years. Its legacy is built on integrity, derived from the work of its writers, editors, producers, and business staff. OpenAI, on the other hand, has used news articles to train AI technologies like ChatGPT without permission. The people who continue to maintain and serve The Atlantic deserve to know what precisely management has licensed to an outside firm and how, specifically, they plan to use the archive of our creative output and our work product. 

As an article published in The Atlantic last week noted, the history of heralded tech-journalism partnerships is one where outlets “make concessions to platforms that attempt to take all of the audience (and trust) that great journalism attracts, without ever having to do the complicated and expensive work of the journalism itself. And it never, ever works as planned.” Atlantic staffers deserve to know why the company leadership believes this time is different. 

Management should immediately make the terms of the deal available to Atlantic staffers and then convene an all-hands meeting to answer our questions honestly, clearly, and without spin. 

The New York Times Building in Manhattan.

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