From a Small Missouri Town Comes the Sports Story That Will Write Itself

By The, Jim Salter | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 22, 1994 | Go to article overview

From a Small Missouri Town Comes the Sports Story That Will Write Itself


The, Jim Salter, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In the cramped back room of the weekly Monroe City News sits a journalist's worst nightmare: a computer that writes by itself.

The 1,600-circulation publication was the first in the country to use software known as SportsWriter. Eighty-two other newspapers, most of them small-town weeklies, have since bought into an idea that has journalists wondering if their computers one day may do their jobs.

In 1991, publisher Mike Sell was desperate to squeeze more high school sports coverage into the paper but couldn't afford to hire another writer. The answer came from Roger Helms, who once worked for Sell in this northeast Missouri town about 20 miles west of Hannibal.

A veteran of weekly papers, Helms had focused his attention on computer programming. He was trying to come up with software that would teach high school journalists how to write sports. What developed went a step further.

"I was asking myself, `How do you think when you write a sports story?' So I just started to program some of that thinking process into the computer," said Helms, 42, now owner of Zybrainics Software of Rochester, Minn. "Eventually, I had sort of taught the computer how to write."

The result was SportsWriter, a software package that writes football and basketball game stories using information provided by coaches.

Helms sent letters advertising the program to 4,000 weekly papers nationwide. Sell was the first buyer. Nine weekly and two daily papers in Missouri ended up buying the program, though Helms said the dailies never used it.

"I used to spend a whole day writing that stuff," said Sell, who left Monroe City six months ago to become advertising director for the Missouri Press Association in Columbia. "Once I got a hold of that program, I knocked it down to about 2 1/2 hours."

But Bill Miller, editor of the twice-weekly Washington Missourian, doesn't buy it.

"I would rather see a live brain working on (a story) rather than a computer," he said. "I think people after a while would look upon it and say: `Why read it? It's so routine."'

The program has drawn widespread attention from journalists, particularly after a front-page Wall Street Journal article March 29.

Writing teacher Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., said a computer-generated story relies too much on information from the source. And, he said, creativity goes out the window.

"A finite number of rules generate an infinite number of sentences, so language use is essentially creative," he said. "It is that freshness that I think appeals to human beings."

Sell said many journalists simply don't like the idea of a computer being able to do their jobs.

"People panic and say a computer might replace people," he said. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

From a Small Missouri Town Comes the Sports Story That Will Write Itself
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.