Robot Journalist Writes A Better Story On College Baseball Perfect Game

from the who-what-when-where-why dept

A few weeks back, there was a fun story about how the website, which (as you might imagine) covers sports at George Washington University, became something of the laughing stock of the press world by publishing a game recap on a game between GW and the University of Virginia. The game recap reads pretty straightforward, opening with the fact that the GW team lost, and then spending a few paragraphs covering the various efforts by different GW players. It's only in the seventh paragraph, out of a grand total of eight, that it finally gets around to mentioning that the opposing pitcher, Will Roberts, threw a perfect game. If you're not a baseball fan, a "perfect game" is extremely rare. As the article does (finally) note, this is only the eighth such perfect game in NCAA Division 1 history (since 1957) and the first since 2002. Normally, you would think that any press coverage would start with the perfect game bit.

The national press, including the Washington Post, picked up on this and GW folks tried to defend the writing by noting that they're only in the business of promoting their own teams, not others:
“This is the George Washington website,” GWU sports information director Dave Lubeski tells Romenesko. “We’re in the business to promote our athletes and our team. We’re not claiming to be journalists.” What some call “the buried lead” was discussed after the story was posted, says Lubeski, and it was mentioned that the perfect game could have been noted in the sub-hed. But “we’re not in the newspaper business,” notes the SID.
I had sent that story around to a few people, because I thought it was pretty funny, but didn't have any obvious reason to post it here... until now. Apparently, in covering the story, Deadspin wondered if perhaps the original article hadn't actually been written by a newfangled automated software program that's been touted as being good enough to write sports stories.

Well, it turns out that the people who wrote that software, Narrative Science, were offended that their program might be thought of as having written an article so badly written, and fed their program the data from the game, and it popped out much better versions. They actually did two versions, a "neutral" point-of-view one, and one designed for GW fans. The "neutral" one brings up the perfect game in the first paragraph. The GW POV one does wait until the third paragraph, but still seems much better than the original...

So, perhaps the author of the original has passed the reverse Turing test, when you can't tell if a human is actually a human or a robot...

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 1:25am

    LIttle known fact: Having to write a news story and have it compared to a robot's story was the original way to test for replicants.

    They abandoned it because of the ensuing slaughter of journalists at the hands of Harrison Ford.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Binary Adder (profile), Apr 19th, 2011 @ 1:56am

    If a robot writes an article, who owns the copyright?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Liz, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 2:09am


    The company that hired the software engineer who utilized the talents of a college intern that programmed the robot owns the copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Frosty840, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Crappy URL formatting

    Totally unrelated to the content of this story, but I'm noticing that URLs from a certain batch of websites are completely failing to work, sending me to some kind of homepage/story list every time.

    The link in the article is:!5787397/we-heard-from-the-robot-and-it-wrote-a-better-story-about-that-perfect -game which doesn't work.

    I searched their website and discovered that the URL: t-game works fine.

    Very strangely, the "uk" at the start of the URL is important, as it prevents corruption of the link.

    Heading to ame works, but sets the URL to!5787397/we-heard-from-the-robot-and-it-wrote-a-better-story-about-that-perfect -game (#! added, as in the original link). After trying this, the #! link now works in new browser sessions, but trying to click through to new #! links (from other linking sites, via a google search) still fails.

    Not your fault, Mike, but you might want to keep an eye on this when linking from this group of websites in the future, as it seems to be pretty consistent across the group.

    And now, back to your regularly scheduled etc, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    abc gum, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 4:28am

    Re: Crappy URL formatting

    Hashtags - breaking the internet one byte at at time

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Apr 19th, 2011 @ 4:52am


    "Tell me only the good things you remember about this ballgame."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Michael, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 4:54am



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Michael, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 4:56am

    Speaking of robots writing articles

    1:13 AM Mike? Really?

    You expect us to believe you haven't been replaced by a blogging robot that never sleeps?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Sean T Henry (profile), Apr 19th, 2011 @ 6:24am

    Re: Speaking of robots writing articles

    What ever gave you the impression that he is not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    RIAA, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 7:07am

    Re: Re:

    How dare you, sir?! We have been using music writing robots for years, clearly this new article robot writing copyright belongs to us!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous a-hole, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 7:15am

    Re: Speaking of robots writing articles

    Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight because scripting the update of web content is hard.

    Do you honesty think that sites that update content at odd hours have an intern sitting and clock-watching to for time to push the button to upload?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 7:34am


    Robots won't write anything if it weren't for copy'right'. What incentive will they have? The robot should get the copy'right'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2011 @ 4:59pm

    Re: Re:

    "What incentive will they have?"

    Exactly. I marked this comment funny, but it is also extremely scary because of the 'truth' it contains (real life is stranger than fiction at times...).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Griff (profile), Apr 19th, 2011 @ 10:43pm

    Re: Re: Speaking of robots writing articles

    Surely, if TD updates were scripted it wouldn't go deathly quiet at weekends (requiring new creative ventures such as "Dark Helmet's favourite posts of the week" to satisfy TD addicts).

    (In the interests of disclosure, I'm all in favour of these "meta posts")

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Rachel, Apr 20th, 2011 @ 5:57am


    "Is this testing whether I'm a Replicant, or a sportswriter, Mr Deckard?"

    "Just answer the question!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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