Robo-reporters need human editors

This week, I’ve used Twitter to follow the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. This morning, this tweet from Steve Buttry of Digital First Media caught my eye:

robo-tweet

I clicked on the link to the image, which is what the ASNE audience saw at a presentation by Michael Maness of the Knight Foundation. It shows the first several paragraphs of a computer-generated story about a baseball game. Here’s what it looked like:

robo-story

Buttry also tweeted a link to a blog post by David Carr of The New York Times that includes the full text of the robo-article and and an explanation of the technology behind it.

The bot-written article does a pretty good job of mimicking a sports story you might see from The Associated Press or ESPN.com. You know who won the game and how. But it has glitches and a big hole.

On the micro-editing level, I detect mistakes in punctuation: a comma splice here and a run-on sentence there. The lead and other segments of the story are wordy, especially for digital media.

On a macro-editing level, I would add a sentence or two to explain the references to Nick Adenhart and “what happened in April in Anaheim.” The robo story never provides that explanation, leaving the reader hanging (or Googling).

And, as noted by Carr in his blog post and by copy editor Jay Wang on Twitter, the fact that the Angels clinched the series needs to be higher in the story. That’s big news.

Are robot reporters a part of journalism’s future? Perhaps, but they will still need human editors.