Sports Illustrated Publisher Arena Group Fires CEO Ross Levinsohn After AI Missteps

The sports website created fake author profiles that appeared to be generated by artificial intelligence

Ross Levinsohn at the 2023 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson Of The Year Award and The Prime Video World Premiere Of "Coach Prime" Season Two at CU Events Center (Getty Images)

The publisher of Sport Illustrated and The Street, Arena Group, fired CEO Ross Levinsohn after ongoing fallout over its use of artificial intelligence on the site.

“Today, the board of directors of The Arena Group Holdings, Inc. (NYSE American: AREN) met and took actions to improve the operational efficiency and revenue of the company,” a statement from the publisher read. “The board terminated the employment of CEO Ross Levinsohn, and named Manoj Bhargava as interim Chief Executive Officer, both effective today.”

In a statement posted to LinkedIn on Monday, Levinsohn wrote, “After 4 1/2 years, today is my last day at The Arena Group.” He did not address the AI scandal, but stated that “the company is positioned well for the future.”

Bhargava owns a majority stake in the Arena Group. The company also fired three top executives last week: COO Andrew Kraft, media president Rob Barrett and corporate counsel Julie Fenster.

Kraft joined the company in 2018 as chief revenue officer. Barrett, a veteran of Hearst Newspapers and Yahoo News, was named Arena Group president in 2021. According to the company’s still-online bio of Fenster, she had been with the group since January 2022.

The company claimed the reports and fake profiles of the “writers” associated with them were licensed content from a third party company called AdVon Commerce, who had reassured them that the authors were humans.

Three weeks ago, Levinsohn was touting The Arena Group’s “strong” third quarter on LinkedIn. Per The company’s financial site, The Street, its year-over-year revenue growth was up 11% and it had lowered operating expenses by 4%.

Prior to becoming CEO of The Arena Group, Levinsohn held senior roles at Yahoo, Fox Interactive and Tribune Publishing.

He also served as publisher of the Los Angeles Times for five months in 2018. He stepped down after NPR reported that he had been hit with two sexual harassment lawsuits for his “frat-boy” behavior. An investigation by Tribune Publishing Company, then known as “Tronc,” cleared Levinsohn of wrongdoing at the time.

Levinsohn became the CEO of Sports Illustrated in October 2019 and CEO of The Arena Group in August 2020.

The use of AI in media has been a hot button issue for several publishers, with several, including News Corp., which owns and operates the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, embracing the seemingly inevitable technology.

Gizmodo ran an AI-generated “Star Wars” list in July that was riddled with errors. Deputy editor James Whitbrook, who said he was only notified of the article 10 minutes before it was published, blasted it as “f—king dogs—t.”

The Arena Group also owns Parade and Men’s Journal and is in the process of combining with Bridge Media Networks.


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