The Gray Lady Tap Dances

June 17, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The collision of myth, double talk, technology, and money produces some fascinating tap dancing. Tip tap tip tap. Tap tap. That’s the sound of the folks involved with explaining that technology is no big deal. Drum roll. Then the coda. Tip tap tip tap. Tap tap tap. It is not money. Tip tap tip tap. tap tap.

I think quite a few business decisions are about money; specifically, getting a bonus or a hefty raise because “efficiency” improves “quality.” One can dance around the dead horse, but at some point that horse needs to be relocated.


The “real” Mona Lisa. Can she be enhanced, managed, and be populated with metadata without a human art director? Yep. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

I read “New York Times Union Urges Management to Reconsider 9 Art Department Cuts as Paper Ramps Up AI Tools | Exclusive.” The write up weaves a number of themes together. There is the possibility of management waffling, a common practice these days. Recall, an incident, Microsoft? The ever-present next big thing makes an appearance. Plus, there is the Gray Lady, working hard to maintain its position as the newspaper for for the USA today. (That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

The main point of the write up is that the NYT’s art department might lose staff. The culprit is not smart software. Money is not the issue. Quality will not suffer. Yada yada. The write up says:

The Times denies that the reductions are in any way related to the newspaper’s AI initiatives.

And the check is in the mail.

I also noted:

A spokesman for the Times said the affected employees are being offered a buyout, and have nothing to do with the use of AI. “Last month, The Times’s newsroom made the difficult decision to reduce the size of its art production team with workflow changes to make photo toning and color correction work more efficient,” Charlie Stadtlander told TheWrap.”On May 30th, we offered generous voluntary buyouts for 9 employees to accept. These changes involve the adoption of new workflows and the expanded use of industry-standard tools that have been in use for years — they are not related to The Times’s AI efforts.”

Nope. Never. Impossible. Unthinkable.

What is the smart software identified as a staff reducer? It is Claro but that is not the name of the company. The current name of the service is Pixometry, which is a mashup of Claro and Elpical. So what does this controversial smart software do? The firm’s Web site says:

Pixometry is the latest evolution of Claro, the leading automated image enhancement platform for Publishers and Retailers around the globe. Combining exceptional software with outstanding layered AI services, Pixometry delivers a powerful image processing engine capable of creating stunning looking images, highly accurate cut-outs and automatic keywording in seconds. Reducing the demands upon the Photoshop teams, Pixometry integrates seamlessly with production systems and prepares images for use in printed and digital media.

The Pixometry software delivers:

Cloud based automatic image enhancement & visual asset management solutions for publishers & retail business.

Its functions include:

  • Automatic image “correction” because “real” is better than real
  • Automatic cut outs and key wording (I think a cut out is a background remover so a single image can be plucked from a “real” photo
  • Consistent, high quality results. None of that bleary art director eye contact.
  • Multi-channel utilization. The software eliminates telling a Photoshop wizard I need a high-res image for the magazine and a then a 96 spot per inch version for the Web. How long will that take? What? I need the images now.
  • Applied AI image intelligence. Hey, no hallucinations here. This is “real” image enhancement and better than what those Cooper Union space cadets produce when they are not wandering around looking for inspiration or whatever.

Does that sound like reality shaping or deep fake territory? Hmmm. That’s a question none of the hair-on-fire write ups addresses. But if you are a Photoshop  and Lightroom wizard, the software means hasta la vista in my opinion. Smart software may suck at office parties but it does not require vacays, health care (just minor system updates), or unions. Software does not argue, wear political buttons, or sit around staring into space because of a late night at the “library.”

Pretty obscure unless you are a Photoshop wizard. The Pixometry Web site explains that it provides a searchable database of images and what looks like one click enhancement of images. Hey, every image needs a bit of help to be “real”, just like “real” news and “real” management explanations. The Pixometry Web site identifies some organizations as “loving” Pixometry; for example, the star-crossed BBC, News UK, El Mercurio, and the New York Times. Yes, love!

Let’s recap. Most of the reporting about this use of applied smart software gets the name of the system wrong. None of the write ups point out that art director functions in the hands of a latte guzzling professional are not quick, easy, or without numerous glitches. Furthermore, the humans in the “art” department must be managed.

The NYT is, it appears, trying to do the two-step around software that is better, faster, and cheaper than the human powered options. Other observations are:

  1. The fast-talking is not going to change the economic benefit of smart software
  2. The notion of a newspaper fixing up photos underscores that deep fakes have permeated institutions which operate as if it were 1923 skidoo time
  3. The skilled and semi-skilled workers in knowledge industries may taste blood when the titanium snake of AI bites them on the ankle. Some bites will be fatal.

Net net: Being up front may have some benefits. Skip the old soft shoe, please.

Stephen E Arnold, June 17, 2024


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