Wick Communications

Why do we need sportswriters?

In Online media on March 23, 2012 at 8:37 am

I was reading some of our newspapers this morning, enjoying a sunny hour or two after print deadline, when Half Moon Bay Review Business Manager Barbara Anderson came into my office intent on blowing my mind.

Clutched in her hand were neat scoring sheets from her daughter’s high school softball game. Because they had been produced on the computer, you could actually read them (unlike the chicken scratch I kept for years while covering games.) Fly balls, walks, strikeouts… they are all there on the printout. That was cool enough. What she showed me next could be a game-changer. In fact, it’s even called “gamechanger.”

GameChanger Media allows parents like Anderson to keep score using an app on her iPad or smartphone, then turn that data into an actual sports story. It is powered by technology created by another company, Narrative Science, which is working on sophisticated programming that renders facts and figures into a story. The people behind Narrative Science are really, really smart. They include Larry Birnbaum and Kris Hammond, who are both Yale-trained computer science and journalism professors at Northwestern. How good are these stories? Here is what it generated based on nothing more than Anderson’s scorekeeping for the March 20 Half Moon Bay Cougar varsity softball game:

Channie Anderson had a good game at the plate, helping Half Moon Bay to a 4-1 victory over Burlingame on Wednesday at HMB.

Anderson boosted her batting average thanks to a perfect 2-2 day at the plate to pace Half Moon Bay. Anderson singled in the third and fifth innings. …

Lyndsay Klimenko was a workhorse on the rubber for Half Moon Bay. Klimenko pitched seven innings and allowed one earned run, four hits and one walk while striking out four. …

The names are all spelled right. The grammar correct. It was generated nearly instantaneously. Wow.

The implications for local journalism are great. Imagine a Little League that tasks a parent volunteer from each team with keeping score. Imagine that league posting all the stats, parent photos and resulting stories to a blog. Imagine if you could get all those parents to supply you with all those stories once they were generated. Would that make your life easier and provide more information for readers?

Where does this leave sportswriters? Are they obsolete? Why would you pay a sportswriter when your computer can do all this for you? Well, read on. I hope you will open the next post to see why good sportswriters can not be replaced.

Clay

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