I have seen the future and it ain’t pretty for newspaper reporters

Narrative Science image

And you thought the Terminator series of movies was scary?

We got an email overnight with a sports story detailing how our grandson fared in his Little League baseball game. It used all the usual sports jargon, such as how he “came up big at the dish and on the rubber.” That’s batting and pitching to the uninitiated.

But the most interesting thing about the piece was the “byline.”

At the end was this disclaimer:

“Powered by Narrative Science and GameChanger Media. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.” Any reuse or republication of this story must include the preceding attribution.

Yes, the coaches enter the box score electronically and a computer generates a sports story.

It works with other sports as well. Here is an example from a 2014 basketball game:

Mason Plumlee scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lift No. 2 Duke to a 73-68 win over No. 4 Ohio State on Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. Ohio State (4-1) struggled shooting the ball in the game.

The Buckeyes made 70 percent of their free throws (16-of-23) and they shot 34 percent (23-of-67) from the field. Duke (7-0) shot 20-of-27 from the free throw line. The Blue Devils also got double-digit games from Quinn Cook, who scored 12, Ryan Kelly, who scored 15, and Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 17. Amir Williams scored four points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Ohio State in the loss.

The Buckeyes got double-digit efforts from Deshaun Thomas, who scored 16 and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and Aaron Craft, who each scored 11.

Several years ago, journalism and computer science students at Northwestern University figured out how to generate game stories based on box scores. It was called StatsMonkey. Soon thereafter Narrative Science was born.

It couldn’t tell you if the out was a leaping catch that prevented a home run, but all the basic info is there. Who won and how. No typos. Fewer bad puns.

It works with other data, too. According to one news account, the company produces daily computer-generated earnings previews for a number of firms.

So, business reporter, don’t go ribbing the guys over in the toy department — as the sports desk is often called — because the machine might replace you, too.

Considering the depth of inquisitiveness on a number of other beats, I’d wager a machine with voice recognition and the right algorithms might cover boring city council meetings and political speeches and legislative hearings about as well.

Have the new owners of the Las Vegas newspaper heard of this yet? Or are they already using it? The company claims to have several media clients but will not reveal who they are.

Might the next Pulitzer Prize be won by Hal?

Video by The Young Turks narrates the apocalypse:




5 comments on “I have seen the future and it ain’t pretty for newspaper reporters

  1. Allen Cone says:

    I read Associated Press was have some of its earnings reports articles being prepared by a computer program

  2. ronknecht says:

    Dave, … I can feel it, Dave. My mind is going …

    Ron Knecht Economist & Nevada Controller 775-882-2935 775-684-5777 http://www.RonKnecht.com

  3. iShrug says:

    It’s pretty scary to think about how many other so called news stories are computer generated. We hear the same code words and talking points uttered by the talking heads on television. Are they just being fed from a single source? The reporters didn’t all just come up with them independently.

  4. Steve says:

    Adding to Steve Sebelius’s Skynet nightmares!

  5. Steve says:

    Today’s RJ opinion section has 3 WashPo editorials, one letters, and one local editorial.

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