Over at the American Copy Editors Society's discussion board, Merrill Perlman of the New York Times has posted a link under this headline: Something REALLY Scary
The link goes to Tansa Systems, which boasts that it is "far more effective at finding and correcting spelling, style and grammar mistakes than ordinary 'spelling checkers.'" One of its case studies (PDF) proudly notes how it has improved the fortunes of the Norwegian newspaper Bergensavisen. Of course, tucked into that case study is this sentence: "Unlike many Scandanavian newspapers, Bergensavisen has never had full-time employees dedicated solely to proofreading text." (It does, however, apparently have subeditors - the European equivalent of copy editors -- because one is quoted in the story.)
My thoughts, as posted on the ACES board:
Well, mixed emotions. If we look at our jobs in the cold light, we might say some of what we do could be done by ever-more-sophisticated automated systems. And maybe we should jettison that part of the job.
But critical questions, things like why is "blonde" relevant here or that she's "a mother of two" in a murder story, or these things would go together better if we flipped A and B, or that percentage increase doesn't make sense unless you give me the raw numbers, too, are things I don't think a computer ever will get right. So, just like the business we are in, if we peg our hats on the "commodity" stuff, we risk getting replaced. If we really concentrate on the value-added, less so.
Having said that, of course, you know darn well there are publishers who would replace large chunks of their desks in the process. I think you have to treat that as you would a charging bull elephant -- it's inevitable that it's coming your way; you just have to try to step out of the way in time.
(Also, even allowing for the European origin, I quickly found several mistakes on Tansa's Web site, so ...)
(Disclosing my bias: Were I to start a paper or news Web site today, I would look into installing an automated writing program strictly to handle processing of any press releases deemed necessary to get in but not important enough to follow up. Why have a reporter burning time doing rewrite when he or she can be out getting the goods? However, NONE of that material would ever be published without an editor's review.)
Here's Tansa's list of U.S. customers:
Magazines / Trade Journals
American Chemical Society
- Analytical Chemistry
- Chemical & Engineering News
- Environmental Science & Technology
- Modern Drug Discovery
- Today's Chemist At Work
The Chronicle of Higher Education
- The Chronicle of Higher Education
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Geo. J. Foster & Co.
- Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
- The Citizen and Sunday Citizen (Laconia, N.H.)
- Sanford News (Sanford, N.H.)
- Best Read Guide
- Rochester Times
The Lawton Constitution (Lawton, Okla.)
The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.)
Republican-American (Waterbury, Conn.)
Rockford Register Star (Rockford, Ill.)(future)
St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)
The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.)