Associated Press Steals Home Base With A Robot

by | Jul 2, 2016

Automation is spreading its wings throughout the land. In marketing, many brands use marketing automation to manage their email outreach. This form of digital disruption has reared its head in education, medicine and many other fields, including media.

According to Poynter, Associated Press will begin using an automated writing service to cover more than 10,000 minor league baseball games annually.

Storm Chaser on the mound

AP has been using automated writing in some form since July 2014, when it began using technology from Automated Insights to produce earnings report stories. The AP now uses automation to produce more than 3,500 earnings reports stories about U.S. companies every quarter.

No one can deny the value of data for journalism enterprises. It’s vital, like water for crops. But can a machine spit out compelling copy? Of course not. What the machine can do is assemble the data. This happened, then that happened and so on…

Facts assembled on a page is not writing. And an earnings report is not a baseball game. A baseball game is an event with dozens of players and thousands of spectators. There’s a lot going on at a minor league game that a machine isn’t going to register.

  • Was the sun in the right fielder’s eyes?
  • Which players are the fan’s favorites?
  • Did the umpire make the right call?
  • Is the mascot okay after that backflip off the dugout?

One might argue that any coverage of minor league baseball is better than no coverage at all. Okay, but what’s wrong with hiring reporters to write these pieces? Could it be that reporters are too expensive to employ? Perhaps, but people with talent and training produce higher quality writing, so it’s a matter of perspective. Facts versus stories. Robots versus real writers.

Many writers who work for online content mills are getting paltry pay for their efforts. I’m confident that newspapers can help elevate the profession, despite the industry’s ongoing struggles. Whatever bottom line a newsroom is facing, there’s also the need to face facts. Data informs the story. Data is not the story.