The A. I. Sub-editor

My letter to the Weekend FT was somewhat marred by what I thought was a misleading title written by an FTT sub-editor. In contrast, my 2019 letter disputing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s claim to be “the first populist that was elected” was given a brilliant title:

A.I. Sub

Working on tight deadlines, on a Friday night at the FT’s HQ on London’s South Bank, it’s challenging for subs looking to capture the essence of each of the letters on their editorial page.

Would generative A.I. help? I decided to put it to the test, starting with my own letter and this ChatGPT prompt:

Act as a newspaper subeditor. Write short 8-10 word headlines for this letter to the editor [INSERT TEXT OF LETTER]

Here’s the results, following the FT’s choice.

  1. “Alphabet’s Revolution: A Cultural Shift Unveiled”
  2. “Surgeon’s Thesis: Alphabet’s Brain Impact Through History”
  3. “Shlain’s Insight: Alphabet Reshaping Religion, Science, Gender”
  4. “From Goddess to Patriarchy: The Alphabet’s Influence Exposed”
  5. “Challenging Myths: Quinn Dissects Alphabet’s Cultural Impact”
  6. “Shaping Minds: The Alphabet’s Journey Through History”
  7. “Cultural Clash: Quinn Takes on White Nationalist Mythology”
  8. “Optimistic Outlook: Shlain Envisions Brain Evolution Beyond Alphabet”
  9. “Images Over Words: Shlain’s Hope for Right-Brained Culture”
  10. “Feminine Wisdom: Shlain Posits Return Amid Cultural Change”
  1. “Revisiting the Greeks: Professor Quinn on Civilization’s Complex Evaluation”
  2. “Beyond pedestals: Professor Quinn’s Insights on Classical Greek Contributions”
  3. “Greeks and Governance: Professor Quinn Dissects Ancient Achievements”
  4. “Classical Greek Legacy: Professor Quinn Challenges Modern Perspectives”
  5. “Meta Leap in Governance: Professor Quinn Explores Greek Brilliance”
  6. “Transcending Relativism: Professor Quinn on Classical Greek Endurance”
  7. “Civilization’s Essence: Professor Quinn Reflects on Greek Achievements”
  8. “Beyond Reductionism: Professor Quinn on the Greek Civilization Myth”
  9. “Classical Greek Brilliance: Professor Quinn’s Thought-Provoking Perspective”
  10. “Quinn’s Reflections: Rethinking Classical Greek Contributions to Civilization”
  1. “Chloe Aridjis Unveils Delightful Journey Through Madrid’s Prado”
  2. “Aridjis’ Artful Adventure: Two Months at Madrid’s Prado Revealed”
  3. “Museum Sanctuary: Aridjis’ Reflections Illuminate Art and Struggle”
  4. “Prado Perspectives: Chloe Aridjis Explores Museums as Sanctuaries”
  5. “Aridjis’ Madrid Memoir: A Unique Glimpse into Museum Sanctuaries”
  6. “Chloe Aridjis’ Artful Escape: Two Months at the Prado”
  7. “From London to Madrid: Aridjis’ Museum Journey Unveiled”
  8. “Exploring Museums: Aridjis’ Essay Sheds Light on Art Sanctuaries”
  9. “Prado and Beyond: Aridjis’ Journey into Museum Sanctuaries”
  10. “Chloe Aridjis’ Museum Musings: A Unique Perspective on Art”
  1. “JLR Chief’s Bold Request: Should Taxpayers Subsidize Luxury SUV Security?”
  2. “JLR’s Dilemma: Taxpayer Subsidy for Luxury SUV Security Sparks Controversy”
  3. “JLR’s CEO Stirs Debate: Should Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Security?”
  4. “Luxury Car Controversy: JLR Calls for Taxpayer Support on Security”
  5. “JLR’s Taxpayer Appeal: Security Costs or Executive Priorities?”
  6. “Luxury Car Maker Faces Backlash: JLR’s Request Sparks Outcry”
  7. “JLR’s Security Saga: CEO Proposes Taxpayer Support Amid Record Profits”
  8. “JLR’s Bold Ask: Taxpayers Subsidize Security for Stolen Luxury SUVs”
  9. “JLR CEO Sparks Controversy: Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Security?”
  10. “Luxury SUVs and Taxes: JLR’s Request Raises Eyebrows”
  1. “Range Rover Mystery: Unoccupied Idling Raises Security Concerns”
  2. “JLR Boss Called Out: Range Rover Left Idling Sparks Questions”
  3. “Car Park Conundrum: Unmanned Range Rover Raises Eyebrows”
  4. “Range Rover Riddle: Owner’s Remote Starter Mishap Spurs Controversy”
  5. “JLR’s Security Quandary: Unattended Range Rover Raises Issues”
  6. “Remote Start Mishap: Unmanned Range Rover Puzzles Onlookers”
  7. “JLR Customer Education: Unmanned Range Rover Prompts Suggestions”
  8. “Idle Investigation: Unattended Range Rover Spurs Security Discussion”
  9. “Range Rover Dilemma: JLR Boss Urged for Customer Education”
  10. “Mystery at the Station: Unmanned Range Rover Raises Alarms”
  1. “Decoding Tipping Dilemmas: Insights from Jo Ellison’s Column”
  2. “Tipping Tales: Navigating Cultural Differences and Digital Transactions”
  3. “From Paris to Tips: Jo Ellison Sheds Light on Tipping”
  4. “The Tipping Mystery: Jo Ellison’s Column Unveils Insights”
  5. “Cultural Quirks: Jo Ellison Explores Tipping Challenges Abroad”
  6. “Digital Transactions and Human Touch: Tipping Insights Unveiled”
  7. “Parisian Tipping Woes: Jo Ellison’s Column Sparks Reflection”
  8. “Small Change, Big Impact: Jo Ellison’s Perspective on Tipping”
  9. “Tipping Etiquette Unveiled: Jo Ellison’s Column Sparks Discussion”
  10. “From Tears to Tips: Jo Ellison’s Column Resonates with Readers”
  1. “Rudeness and Noodles: Tim Harford Reflects on Wong Kei’s”
  2. “Wong Kei’s Legacy: Tim Harford Explores Rude Service Charm”
  3. “Rudeness Revisited: Tim Harford’s Take on Wong Kei’s Tradition”
  4. “Chinatown Charm: Tim Harford on the Quirky Appeal of Wong Kei’s”
  5. “Noodles and Blunt Humour: Tim Harford Recalls Wong Kei’s”
  6. “Wong Kei’s Wit: Tim Harford Explores the Charm of Rudeness”
  7. “Quirky Dining: Tim Harford’s Reflection on Wong Kei’s Signature”
  8. “Rude Service Charm: Tim Harford’s Nostalgic Wong Kei’s Tale”
  9. “Wong Kei’s Legacy Lives On: Tim Harford’s Humorous Memories”
  10. “Dining with Attitude: Tim Harford Reminisces Wong Kei’s Style”
  1. “McCarthy’s Ambition: A Tribal Tale in American Politics”
  2. “Driven by Ambition: McCarthy’s Political Portrait Unveiled”
  3. “Tribal Politics: McCarthy’s Ambition Revealed in FT Interview”
  4. “US Speaker’s Ambition: A Reflection on McCarthy’s Legacy”
  5. “Political Tribalism: McCarthy’s Ambition Under the Spotlight”
  6. “Retrospective Ambition: Kevin McCarthy’s Political Journey Unveiled”
  7. “McCarthy’s Legacy: Ambition and Tribalism in US Politics”
  8. “Tribal Ties: Former US Speaker McCarthy’s Driven Ambition”
  9. “Kevin McCarthy Unmasked: Ambition and Tribalism in Politics”
  10. “Politics of Ambition: McCarthy’s Tribal Approach in the Spotlight”
  1. “Cheers to Tech: AI and the Future of Wine Experts”
  2. “Wine App Worries: Alice Lascelles Explores AI’s Impact”
  3. “Tech vs. Terroir: Can an AI App Replace Wine Experts?”
  4. “Sipping into the Future: Alice Lascelles on Wine and AI”
  5. “I, Vin: A Catchy Alternative to AI Sommelier Apps”
  6. “Pour Decisions: Alice Lascelles Ponders AI in Wine”
  7. “Wine and Tech: Alice Lascelles Weighs in on AI Sommeliers”
  8. “Sommelier or AI? The Future of Wine Expertise Explored”
  9. “Wine Trends: Alice Lascelles Delves into AI’s Influence”
  10. “I, Vin: A Quirky Suggestion for Wine App Enthusiasts”

Win some, lose some

Looking over these lists, it’s clear that generative AI cannot match the subs at their best. The Eugene Onegin pun went above and beyond the wit of the original letter. Other headlines from the FT were more pedestrian.

However, the AI text overdoes words like “unveiled” and “revealed”. It also inserts the article author’s name too frequently. However, I found it useful as a brainstorming tool, where the final headline can be cherry-picked from suggestions. I plucked my own alternate headline (“Rewiring brains for a return to feminine values”) from a previous list of ChatGPT suggestions. Among the ten suggestions for the visit to the Prado and the McCarthy letter is the exact text used by the FT. I liked “Rudeness and noodles: Chinatown charm” taken from that list of suggestions. “Tech vs. Terroir: Can an AI App Replace Wine Experts?” has appeal.

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