The trade union which represents working journalists in the South-West of England has criticised a recently-launched local news site which appears to be ‘staffed’ by fake reporters and to use AI-generated copy.

The Bournemouth Observer, which was launched last month, has been exposed by Hold The Front Page (HTFP), a media industry website. It revealed how The Observer apparently used images from a stock picture archive to illustrate profiles of its ‘staff.’

The SW England branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called on Paul Giles, who fronts for the Observer, to come clean on whether it really has any staff. “If they don’t exist, as looks likely, then who’s writing the copy published on the site?” asked branch chair James Garrett?

The NUJ also asked Giles to ‘fess up as to whether AI was used in compiling stories. This possibility was raised by HTFP after Dorset Police said it had failed to find any record of two incidents reported by The Observer.

Said Garrett, “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!”

However, observed Garrett, “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.'”

James Garrett

Freelance Journalist

Life Member & Chair,

SW England Branch, NUJ

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