A Sellout's Samizdat
Sports Journalism Is So Easy, a Robot Could Do It ⇢

This story in Slate by Farhad Manjoo ought to help news outlets cover the World Series. A robotic journalist can write short stories about the outcomes of baseball games, using nothing more than some clever programming and fresh data. It’s chilling how the sample stories usually mimic flat, AP-style sportswriting.

When I was at the AP. we paid freelancers $15 to call in a brief story about college football and basketball games and minor-league baseball games. The freelancers were usually reporters for local or college papers. They’d dictate a few grafs of info, and the AP desk would type it up and send it out on the wire. Those stories read EXACTLY like the ones the robot journalist produced, down to the tired sportswriting verbs and the emphasis on individual achievement in what’s supposed to be a team sport.

I remember that once a freelancer who’d covered a minor-league baseball doubleheader got all pissed when I told him he’d just get $15 for the story, even though it covered two games. One story, one chit. That $15 meant a lot to the guy. It means nothing to a robot.

Major News Organizations Fooled by Browser IQ Study Hoax ⇢

It’s amazing these kinds of hoaxes don’t fool the media more often. In this vicious, round-the-clock news cycle, it’s better to be first than to be right.

I’ve been in these scrums many times. Some press release drops into the in box, and the reporter just rewrites the copy, puts in a token call to the parties involved, and pushes the button to publish.

I wonder how many reporters and editors used IE to look up the bogus website the pranksters set up? Maybe there’s some truth to this IQ story after all.

"During the great housing bubble and bust, journalists spent a fair amount of time searching for the perfect mortgage victim. This victim would be someone who played by the rules, took a conservative approach to his finances and simply wanted a decent place to live. He made his monthly payments on time, right up to the day that the bank informed him that his payments would balloon because of a fine-print technicality that no borrower could have understood. Just like that, the homeowner was facing foreclosure.

By and large, these searches failed. The stories of the housing bust tended to be more complicated. Many borrowers stretched to buy homes, figuring that they would be making more money soon enough or that housing prices would keep going up. In Southern California, one homeowner told me he was well aware that his monthly payments would eventually balloon. He thought everything would work out, though, because he assumed that ever-rising home values would allow him to refinance. Much of the country shared this belief.

Banks, mortgage brokers and real-estate agents were only too happy to encourage these fantasies, of course. In many cases, their encouragement crossed the line into malfeasance. But the bubble grew as large as it did because this malfeasance fed on human frailty, naïveté and even irresponsibility. “

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The New York Times Magazine, article "Buyer Be Aware" by David Leonhardt published 14 August 2010.

So if this is the story reporters discovered, why does the story about the blameless victim persist? It’s so much easier to spin the fable - editors at news outlets don’t want to hear that the story they’ve cooked up in their minds doesn’t exist.

Take it from me - most Americans are fat, dumb and lazy. How many believe that the sun revolves around the earth? Evolution is a lie? Sadaam Hussein was responsible for 9-11?

Campaign Cliches

So, the primary election is over, but the election cliches in the press continue:



It’s no wonder that fewer than 10% of eligible voters “turned out” in some districts.

About A Sellout's Samizdat

My journalism career sucked, and that ship's headed for the deep anyway, so I sold out. My corporate job is a joke by comparison, but it's fun in many ways to be a drone to capitalism. Here's my story of what it's like to be a sellout - published in modern-day Soviet samizdat style. If my boss knew, I'd get sent to Siberia. And while I'm at it, why not poke fun at the dumb behavior of my former tribe?


Ask me anything How Did You Sell Out With Style?

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