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Math media: Computers write news articles

Journalistic texts are characterised by a certain structure that algorithms can be programmed to imitate.

world Updated: Apr 02, 2010 01:15 IST

Journalistic texts are characterised by a certain structure that algorithms can be programmed to imitate.

The first tests still read or hear like early prototypes, but they’re already around in sports journalism, with finance or local news to come next.

In the US, two different projects have started work on algorithm produced journalism.

Last week the sports statistics website StatSheet announced a plan to produce completely automated sports content as of this summer.

The algorithm produced content will take the form of blogs, with a target that at least 90 per cent of the readers should think the content was created by a human.

And in a partnership with the Medill school of journalism, the Intelligent Information Laboratory of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University has developed an algorithm called StatsMonkey that publishes game stories.

Automated journalism can basically be understood as search algorithms programmed to look out for certain key findings and then to put them into a certain structure.

For a report on a football game for example, the StatsMonkey calculates the narrative based on the numerical data.

Using the score, the algorithm captures the overall dynamic of the game, highlights the key plays and key players, looks for quotes, and generates a text out of these elements.

In addition, it configures an appropriate headline and a photo of the most important player in the game — and there goes a very rough sketch of a sports article.

As programming semantics got better and better in the recent years, automated journalism will become more widely available.
“Sports is an unbelievable ground for this because it’s data intensive,” says Kristian Hammond, co-director of Intelligent Information Laboratory in Illinois.

“The system knows how to go off and find information, it knows how to find quotes, it knows how to collect data, but then a traditional journalist has to bring his or her perspective to that story. It will only provide journalists with a starting point.”

The programs are just early prototypes, but will improve quickly with the further development of intelligent semantics.

While the first prototypes stutter a lot, it is likely that algorithms will change journalistic tasks in the long term, although they won’t replace journalists, just as much as spell-checking programs haven’t replaced anybody.

In the future, writing might not be something anymore that is entirely done by humans, which will surely be debated — and necessarily so.