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Borg sports reporting

One of my spies sends word that there is now a source of sports articles entirely generated by robots.*

Once StatSheet sets up the algorithms for a particular team, articles are automatically generated as the stats are received.

Of course, so much of journalism is formulaic—not only stock story structures but also stock phrases—that it is not entirely a surprise that someone might manage this, particularly with the sort of sports story in which the text is merely a matrix in which the statistics are embedded.

But if I were a reporter writing about business, say, or politics, I might be looking over my shoulder.


*Must. Suppress. Smartass. Remark.


Posted by John McIntyre at 5:28 PM | | Comments (10)


We're already there, John. When I was laboring in the vineyard of the federal statistical establishment I learned of a tool that would generate bilingual reports of labor (labour) force statistics. It was developed on Canada's nickel but he Canadians thought it was black magic and never used it.

Here's a little something to make the business writers feel more secure! There is an "app" (hate that term!) that will "write" a short story about labor force statistics--or "labour force statistics" since the Canadian government paid for the R&D. Statistics Canada wouldn't adopt it--they though there was some sort of black art involved, apparently. More at

Am I very clever to have realized that John Bosley has used the same programme, and two slightly different sets of input data, to mechanically produce his comments, or am I very stupid because everyone else already knew that?

There's a web page or two out there that have programs to generate a Christopher Kimball "Letter from Vermont". (Apologies to those who have no idea what I'm talking about.)

What the robots don't realize is that any sports fans who would read such a story would rather read the box score itself and divine their own stories in the data,

This was forecast by a character in Michael Frayn's The Tin Men who says one day all sport will be played by robots, watched by robots and commented on by robots because a human being is too expensive an instrument to be wasted watching cricket (a fallacious argument, of course).

Meanwhile another character, Goldwasser, is developing a computer to create newspaper stories automatically from a supplied lexicon.  He can tell from the language that it is possible.

'Newspaper language, in fact, was a simplification to the point of abstraction. It was like mathematics. It had a bearing on life, but was remote from it, making not particular statements but general ones. Just as 2+2=4 applies to any two pairs of apples, or vacuum-cleaners, or middle-class Frenchmen, so "Mr. Average in Get-There-Or-Else Mystery Marathon" described a range of situations so undefined as to be infinite. The more Goldwasser thought about it, the more difficult it was to see what sort of evidence could possibly disprove "Mr. Average in Get-There-Or-Else Mystery Marathon," and if there was no evidence that disproved it, there was plainly none that proved it, either.  The only possible conclusion was that it was not a factual statement at all, but, like 2+2=4, a well-formed formula legitimately derived from an axiomatic system.  All this was a great comfort to Goldwasser, who had to reproduce the system on the axiomatic machinery of a computer.'

He succeeds, of course.  The machine is very capable of producing heads like 'DO-IT-YOURSELF ENVOY IN SOCCER PROBE MARATHON' and intros like 'Rain horror ended Britain's miracle heatwave last night'.       

Produce a script that says "President [name] needs to reach across the aisle to [opposite party] leader [name]," and David Broder can go on a fishing vacation for the rest of his life.

Cingram, I just thought that John Bosley was one of those boring guys who repeats himself.

Holy cyber-intelligence, Batman, I should have read Mr. McIntyre's article in full, beyond the brief 'header'----"Borg sports reporting". (Drat!)

Here I was thoroughly convinced it was a fluff piece about former Swedish tennis great, Bjorn Borg tackling a new vocational challenge, i.e., "sports reporting", as if he needed the dough. (He's apparently made a virtual killing in recent years w/ his signature Bjorn Born bikini-briefs----and other sundry undies-----boutiques. Who knew?)

As SNL's Gilda Radner's immortal, hearing-challenged, mildly-dyslexic (?) recurring character Emily Litella would have said........... "Never mind." HA!


Actually, when I think about it, good sportswriters may be among the most creative of journalists.

Their job, day after day, is to come up with an endless stream of new ways to say: "Some person propelled a ball through a narrow opening." Frankly, I don't think I could do it.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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