Why we’re publishing new automated stories about Minor League Baseball

By Jake Kreinberg

Our deputy director of sports products, Barry Bedlan, explains how this change will affect our customers, journalists and readers.

Last week, we introduced automated game stories for 142 Minor League Baseball teams through collaborations with Automated Insights and MLB Advanced Media.

I talked with Barry Bedlan, our deputy director of sports products, about the impact the move has for customers, journalists and readers.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Barry Bedlan

What will these automated stories look like?

The recaps (example) will be about 150 to 225 words each, using data not only from today’s box scores provided by MLB Advanced Media, but also historical data, too. So stories will also note if a player is having a career performance or if a team is on a winning streak against a rival.

We have worked closely with developers to make sure the recaps conform to the news judgment and standards for AP’s baseball coverage.

The reality is that there will be some moments from games that are missed if they don’t make it into the box score, such as a bench-clearing brawl where no one’s ejected. There won’t be quotes or color, but most of these are games we haven’t been able to previously cover in any respect.

We’re looking to produce about 10,000 of these recaps over the course of a full season, with each one completed within minutes of a game ending.

Will these stories line up with AP’s standards?

Work on the recaps started 15 months ago, and AP’s top baseball reporters and editors have had a hand in reviewing, critiquing and refining them with developers to meet AP standards. We’ve also adopted suggestions from many of the newspaper and digital sports editors around the country we’ve shared them with.

MLB Advanced Media also has many levels of checks and balances to make sure the data is clean. That’s not to say that an error can’t make it into a box score along the way, but they also have mechanisms in place to quickly correct any mistakes when discovered.

Every story will also have a tagline at the bottom saying it was produced via automation using technology from Automated Insights.

Why target Minor League Baseball for automation?

We saw the success with our automated business earnings reports, which expanded the amount of local-interest content available to our members and customers. There are many newspapers out there now that get quarterly earnings stories on local companies and employers that they never got before.

We’re hoping to mimic that success with sports, because in the end, Minor League Baseball is a local story in those markets that have teams. And there are a good number of newsrooms that dedicate resources, whether that’s staff or freelancers, to minor league coverage.

For many, these automated stories will lead to cost savings or, more importantly, free up their reporters to do more in-depth local coverage.

How will our journalists be affected by this change?

Currently, we publish “glances” on the wire, which include scores, schedules and standings, but we have not routinely covered any minor league games for more than a decade. Because we’re not regularly attending these games, there’s no direct impact on our journalists.

However, the automation will help us quickly identify unusual performances and circumstances in games that might lend themselves well to a bigger story that could actually be written by our reporters.

How else might we incorporate automation?

The possibilities are endless when you start looking into what automation can offer and provide. We’re exploring all sorts of different possible uses, but we’re being very deliberate about our work to make sure we adhere to our high standards and ethics.

Whatever we do, we also need to make sure it’s worthwhile to the news cooperative – automation can require a lot of work on the front end, so using it for something that will only show up on the wire a few times each month or year just isn’t practical.

And, just as importantly, there are still limitations to what automation can do, as computers aren’t able to do the critical thinking that a reporter can do or provide the on-site color and detail. Right now, the way the technology is designed, we see it really more as a tool that’s meant to do the basic work that our talented journalists shouldn’t have to be doing.

That way, we can have our staff focused on the storylines that don’t always show up in the box score.

Jake Kreinberg

Jake is the text and multimedia product manager at The Associated Press and the former editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for AP and helped design its multi-year strategic plan. Have feedback about the blog? Contact us at insights@ap.org.

insights, text, sports