Morning Poll: Use of AI-generated images to illustrate some local stories

In some very limited circumstances, ARLnow has been using AI-generated images to illustrate stories.

The typical use case are stories around a concept for which specific imagery might cause problems or is simply unavailable. For instance, file photos we have on hand for real estate stories show for-sale signs with a specific agent’s name and phone number, as well as a specific house — which someone presumably now lives in and might not love being shown over and over.

We also sometimes struggle to illustrate Morning Poll posts involving holidays, like New Year’s or Valentine’s Day, with photos on hand. We want to avoid showing specific people or places, but also would prefer not to use generic images from a stock photo library.

Using AI in these circumstances lets us give the image a more local touch, adjust for the current season or weather, better reflect Arlington’s diversity, or customize the design to something that better fits the use case. It also can be done in just a few minutes, and we often publish our articles on tight deadlines.

Ultimately, though, we’ve only needed to do this a few times. Which is why the reaction to the use of an AI image for our recent story about businesses for sale was so surprising. Social media users flamed ARLnow for the image, which showed a group of people walking down a fictional street of shops in the rain somewhere in Arlington.

Reactions on Instagram to an AI image being used on an ARLnow story about businesses for sale

“This is not Arlington,” one person wrote. “This page has turned into AI trash content. I’ve unsubscribed.”

“Why use AI?” said another. “Lots of talented artists and photographers in Arlington.”

The reaction was more neutral in the article comments, though many commented on the AI image rather than the substance of the post itself.

Given the reaction, we wanted to ask readers what you think. Do you think ARLnow should continue to use AI generated images in limited circumstances or stop using AI imagery altogether?