If you put a Little League game through a system that was writing stories for a college or professional baseball, the result would be completely inappropriate for that audience. That we learned from Medill—who’s the audience and what’s important to them. If you’ve got a Little League game, you don’t say, “Timmy Jones disappointed everybody,” but in a college game, that’s completely acceptable.
Once the program has the data, how long does it take to write the story?
A matter of seconds.
And then, is there an editor? At what point do human hands touch the story?
When we have a new kind of sport or a new kind of story, a recap versus a quarterly update versus a preview, there are eyes on every story in the beginning. But by the end of the season in baseball, things were generated and published, because we’d taken care of all the glitches.
Could this put people out of work?
Our goal was always to generate stories in places where publishing organizations simply didn’t have the manpower anymore to write these stories. Local newspapers are fighting for survival. If we can provide highly localized content inexpensively, they can fill two more pages and sell ads. With that little bit of extra money, they can hire someone to write the stories we can’t touch. We’re providing a possible set of solutions that will help an industry, and if you help an industry, it will create more jobs.
Was that intuitive to your colleagues at Medill?
It was not their first response. But they’re very forward-looking. They understand that technology is not the answer, but it’s going to be part of the solution.
What’s next, after sports?
Finance is a wonderful area where there’s a tremendous amount of data. If you think about financial reporting, there aren’t that many companies where reporters are really paying close attention. We can pay attention to all of them.