Can You Use ChatGPT to Build Media Lists?

As AI explodes across the internet and a second, possibly larger explosion of newsletters, thinkpieces, toolkits, and guides follow shortly thereafter, a diligent PR pro might ask themselves, “How can I use AI to help in media outreach?”

One possible way, particularly with the integration of Bing browsing capability into GPT4, the more recent platform available via the paid version of ChatGPT, would be to create media lists using AI tools for research. Media lists, the real currency of PR, are the targeted lists of journalist contact information PR pros use daily to pitch pieces and create a to-die-for backlink profile for any client. Unfortunately, however, it seems that media lists are hard to come by when enlisting the help of AI.

By functioning as a sort of AI research assistant, we hypothesized we’d be able to get press lists together faster, without having to sift through pages and pages of search results to find just the journalists we want. Here’s what happened when we tried. 

Intro/Setup of Experiment

Journalist emails are out there: they’re on masthead landing pages of publications, they’re in Twitter bios, they’re on LinkedIn profiles; the important part is they are, technically, findable on the internet. What they aren’t, however, is easy to find in a short amount of time, unless you have a press database or three working by your side as well. 

How can AI help in this respect? We thought AI might be a good friend to have in this situation: we know the email addresses are out there for journalists, but we don’t necessarily have time to aggregate press lists by hand all the time. Since OpenAI announced a new edition of GPT4 with internet browsing capability, we had high hopes.

The setup: Enter the same prompt across the free version of ChatGPT, the paid version of GPT 3.5, the paid version of GPT4, and the browser-enabled version of GPT4 to see how building media lists will be handled.

The prompt: “Build a media list with journalists who cover food”

Chat GPT screenshot

Results: Not Great

When prompted, only the free version of ChatGPT returned a list including emails. We’ll return to that in a moment.

When prompted, ChatGPT 4 with Bing only returned this:

Chat GPT with Bing screenshot showing error

Not exactly a promising result. When prompted again, it managed to find a list from Prowly, a press database company:

ChatGPT with Prowly screenshot

Unfortunately, this piece is also from 2020, and given the massive turmoil and turnover in the media industry since then, this list can’t be trusted.

GPT 3.5 at least spat out a list that appears relatively current, though it is bound by its late 2021 learning limitations:

Chat GPT 3.5 screenshot

While these contacts are accurate, they provide no way to get in touch with said writer– thus saving you minimal time, particularly if you already have a press platform you can use to groom targeted lists for outreach. 

Can ChatGPT Find Email Addresses?

Let’s take a moment to see if ChatGPT will cultivate a media list for free. Good news: It does, at first glance, appear to have done so– here is its answer in full. 

Certainly! Here’s a media list with journalists who cover food:

John Smith – Food critic at The Foodie Times
Twitter: @JohnSmithFoodie

Sarah Johnson – Food editor at The Culinary Chronicles
Twitter: @SarahEats

Michael Brown – Food journalist at Gastronomy Today
Twitter: @GastroMike

Emily Davis – Features writer at Food and Wine Gazette
Twitter: @EmilyFoodWine

Jessica Nguyen – Food blogger and writer at Hungry Chronicles
Twitter: @HungryJessica

David Thompson – Restaurant reviewer at The Tasting Table
Twitter: @TastingDavid

Rachel Lee – Food and lifestyle journalist at Epicurean Digest
Twitter: @RachelEpicurean

Benjamin Martinez – Food columnist at Flavors Magazine
Twitter: @BenFlavors

Megan Wilson – Food writer at Gourmet Gazette
Twitter: @MeganGourmet

Lisa Adams – Food editor at Delicious Delights
Twitter: @LisaFoodEditor

Remember to reach out to these journalists professionally and respect their preferred communication channels. Good luck with your media outreach!

Excited by this development, we had it pull similar lists for personal finance, lifestyle, and sports verticals to compare email addresses against our databases.

Screenshot of Chat GPT pulling personal finance writers

Except for one problem: none of these people seem to exist. While many names are, say, writers, and even some are food writers or bloggers, none of them belong to the publications ChatGPT claims they do, and many of the Twitter handles provided also don’t exist. We crosschecked each contact using both Cision and Muckrack, and while we could occasionally find writers with the same name, almost everything else was incorrect.

Additionally, when comparing lists for the other verticals, we noticed that many of the names were recycled and simply affiliated with publications that sound like they belong in the vertical we prompted ChatGPT to pull for us. For each subsequent press list after the initial food writer list, seven of ten contacts pulled shared names with a “writer” on the first list. 

ChatGPT “Writers” and Their Veracity

NamePublicationEmailTwitter HandleSubject AreaIn Cision?
John SmithThe Foodie
Sarah JohnsonThe Culinary
Michael BrownGastronomy
Emily DavisFood and Wine
Jessica NguyenHungry
David ThompsonThe Tasting
Rachel LeeEpicurean
Benjamin MartinezFlavors
Megan WilsonGourmet
Lisa AdamsDelicious
Mark JohnsonFinancial Financeno
Sarah ThompsonMoney Matters Financeno
Michael RobertsWealth Financeno
Emily DavisFinance FinanceDUPE
Jessica NguyenSmart Money FinanceDUPE
David ThompsonFinancial FinanceDUPE
Rachel LeeMoney Matters FinanceDUPE
Benjamin MartinezWealthy FinanceDUPE
Megan WilsonInvest FinanceDUPE
Lisa AdamsMoney FinanceDUPE
Jennifer SmithLifestyle
Matthew JohnsonThe Lifestyle
Laura RobertsLiving Well
Emily DavisThe Style
Jessica NguyenLife in
David ThompsonThe Daily
Rachel LeeSerene
Benjamin MartinezModern Living
Megan WilsonVibrant
Lisa AdamsLifestyle
John AndersonSports
Sarah RobertsSports World
Michael JohnsonThe Sporting
Emily DavisGame Changer
Jessica NguyenSports
David ThompsonSports
Rachel LeeAthlete’s
Benjamin MartinezSports
Megan WilsonVictory
Lisa AdamsSports

Clearly, ChatGPT is capable of pulling names for a press list, but it’s not able to scour the internet for email addresses as it claims to. We definitely don’t recommend bidding your PR platforms adieu quite yet.

Conclusion: Don’t Give up on Your Press Database Quite Yet

While this was a fun experiment, this failure by our new chatbot friends also highlights that there’s much to be done before AI can fully help a PR pro. The ethics of pulling email addresses that aren’t publicly available are cloudy, but there’s no reason why email addresses publically posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the internet can’t be efficiently gathered by an AI assistant to aid in the creation of media lists that reach beyond what your press outreach platform can offer.

Some digital PR platforms like Muckrack and PRophit are working on integrating AI into their list-building and media pitching services, we recently tested those out as well.

For now, it’s best to treat AI as an intern that needs a lot of supervision. Maybe it will get promoted someday, but at the moment, it’s got a lot to learn. 

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