Is Software Set to Replace Sports Journalists?

Computers can now write a baseball news article. America's pasttime just went 21st century.
Computers can now write a baseball news article. America's pastime just went 21st century.

Sports writers are sharpening their pencils and maliciously eying their laptops as researchers in the Intelligent Informations Lab at Northwestern University announce that they’ve created a program that can write a convincing baseball news story without human help. Called Stats Monkey, the new computer software analyzes the box scores, and play by plays to automatically generate the news article. It highlights key players and clutch plays and will even write an appropriate headline and find a matching photo for a few player! Check out a sample story written by Stats Monkey after the break.

Not satisfied with worrying only baseball sports writers, developers say Stats Monkey could be adapted to any situation with a heavy helping of statistical data. Translation: it could work for every sport humans like to read about. Moreover, Stats Monkey could be adapted to write business stories, or conference updates, or other forms of professional journalism that rely heavily on numbers and analytics. Writing, it seems, is no longer immune from automation.

Stats Monkey basically combines two sections of code: the first uses baseball analysis algorithms to determine what actions in the game were important. The second part of code selects from several archetypal narrative arcs (the come from behind win, the landslide victory, etc) and adapts one to fit the stats of the game. It can even write from the point of view of either team. That’s more than can be said of some sports journalists out there.

Without further ado, check out the Stats Monkey story for the October 11th playoff game between the Angels and Red Sox:

BOSTON — Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.
Guerrero drove in two Angels runners. He went 2-4 at the plate.
“When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart, and what happened in April in Anaheim, yes, it probably was the biggest hit (of my career),” Guerrero said. “Because I’m dedicating that to a former teammate, a guy that passed away.”
Guerrero has been good at the plate all season, especially in day games. During day games Guerrero has a .794 OPS. He has hit five home runs and driven in 13 runners in 26 games in day games.
After Chone Figgins walked, Bobby Abreu doubled and Torii Hunter was intentionally walked, the Angels were leading by one when Guerrero came to the plate against Jonathan Papelbon with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning. He singled scoring Abreu from second and Figgins from third, which gave Angels the lead for good.
The Angels clinched the AL Division Series 3-0.
Angels starter Scott Kazmir struggled, allowing five runs in six innings, but the bullpen allowed only one runs and the offense banged out 11 hits to pick up the slack and secure the victory for the Angels.
J.D. Drew drove in two Red Sox runners. He went 1-4 at the plate.
Drew homered in the fourth inning scoring Mike Lowell.
“That felt like a big swing at the time,” said Drew. “I stayed inside the ball and put a good swing on it. I was definitely going to be ready to battle again tomorrow, but it didn’t work out.”
Drew has been excellent at the plate all season, especially in day games. During day games Drew has a .914 OPS. He has hit five home runs and driven in 17 runners in 36 games in day games.
Papelbon blew the game for Boston with a blown save. Papelbon allowed three runs on four hits in one inning.
Reliever Darren Oliver got the win for Los Angeles. He allowed no runs over one-third of an inning. The Los Angeles lefty struck out none, walked none and surrendered no hits.
Los Angeles closer Brian Fuentes got the final three outs to record the save.
Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales helped lead the Angels. They combined for three hits, three RBIs and one run scored.
Four relief pitchers finished off the game for Los Angeles. Jason Bulger faced four batters in relief out of the bullpen, while Kevin Jepsen managed to record two outs to aid the victory.

The news that Stats Monkey is even attempting to replace them should have writers everywhere gathering up powerful magnets and heading to Northwestern’s hard drives to extract some retribution. As it is, many journalists have taken a humorous spin on the situation (some quite defensive). That could be laughter in the face of death. It seems almost inevitable that at least some forms of writing will be automated, and sooner than expected. As such, I’d like to take the time to make a confession: I’m actually a computer program. And not even a very sophisticated one at that. Whew. Feels good to get that off my virtual chest.

[photo credit and quoted story credit: Northwestern University, Intelligent Informations Lab]

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