Thursday, March 25, 2010

Game changer for sports journalists?

I have a lot of young folks in my classes who want to be sports reporters -- only I think too many of them define sports reporting as covering games and news conferences.

They -- and everyone who is covering sports or expects to -- should read this about software coming to market that will automatically write sports stories (some of that already exists, but I think the point here is that it is becoming tremendously more versatile and efficient):

And if you are a budding broadcast sports reporter, don't necessarily get too smug - there's a reference in here to programs being developed that can automate the video coverage, too. How long do you think it will be before they can meld the two?

StatSheet founder Robbie Allen, who is developing the program, puts it this way:

Human reporters know a team and a season, but Allen says they also "have their scripts written." "They already think they know what to look at as the most interesting things that have happened," he says. "I'm talking about codifying that knowledge, to build a wider corpus of interesting facts to draw from."
Allen says he isn't trying to replace sports reporters, but augment them. Yeah, and we know how that translates once it gets into the executive suite.

The digital age is clearly showing us that journalism is much different from the function of putting out a newspaper or newscast. Journalism is a process that will flow, like water, wherever there is an appropriate vessel. Putting out a paper or a newscast is an industrial process that, like all such processes, will seek to lower and control costs -- and automate -- as much as it can. Any kind of "process," be it routine sports coverage or routine copy editing, or putting together the police blotter, is open to automation.

As an AP reporter and editor, I covered college and pro sports, so while I was not a full-time sports reporter I speak from some experience. And as I continue looking at sports coverage, it occurs to me this is a tough nut for most sports reporters to crack. Sports, even some high-school level stuff, is so controlled by leagues, owners, etc. (see, e.g., the battle last fall over SEC credentials) that getting past the "routine" is not going to be easy for our budding crop of sports journalists. (For another example, borrow a copy of the excellent documentary "The Paper" and see how the Penn State sports reporter was punished by the athletics department, and almost brought to tears, by using initiative to cover what actually was a positive story about players and their apartments.)

But if they don't get past the routine, some software developer is waiting in the wings to do their job for them.

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At 3/27/10, 8:08 AM, Anonymous John Robinson said...

Great post, Doug. As we have pushed our sportswriters to skip the game stories and write with insight and analysis, they encountered skepticism and derision from their peers at other papers. In addition, SIDs at colleges don't want it or don't get it because, to them, it means they don't get the kind of publicity for the program they want.

At 3/29/10, 9:34 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks, John. Always good to hear from you. Hope all is well.


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