Back in 2010 I ripped into legal publishing behemoth FindLaw because they had turned to shit-blogging: Producing “content” in the form of writing up local car collisions and then closing with “If you’ve been injured…”
I wrote at the time:
To be clear, dreck-bloggers aren’t interested in creating good content, they simply regurgitate local accident or arrest stories and place a call-to-action link at the bottom.
This pattern has now hit the sports world. On the op-ed pages of the New York Times, former Deputy Editor of Deadpspin, Barry Petchesky, discuses how he was fired because his stories did not deal, in the words of Deadspin’s new owners, with sports. Deadspin had been bought by G/O Media, a private equity firm.
Deadspin believed that sports didn’t end at the locker room, but included a whole host of player and management conduct that occurred off the field. It had an expansive view of sports, just as I have an expansive view of personal injury law that I believe covers ethics, and SCOTUS and marketing and every other aspect of a professional service business.
Petchesky was clear on his view of the scope of a sports editor:
We wanted to show the world the reality of sports, to help readers and players alike understand the labor issues, the politics, the issues of race and class that don’t materially change when the power dynamic is owner/player. In 2014, we obtained audio of then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rant against what he considered ungrateful black employees. “Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” Sterling said. Deadspin’s position was that it’s all in the game.
With this purchase, Deadspin follows Sports Illustrated to the grave. Control of SI had been given to “wannabe tech company” TheMaven, which last month fired half of Sports’ Illustrated’s vaunted newsroom, and then went about trying to “hire” local people for peanuts to cover local teams.
In other words, SI is becoming a “content mill,” much the way FindLaw set out to do 10 years ago. Deadspin will presumably follow the same route as it’s website becomes zombified to run local stories that are little more than click-bait, or computer-generated articles.
And this isn’t much different than many financial articles, which are now written by computers instead of people. Every so often I see articles that will give some generic statement about a company’s earnings and I think, “Huh, you can say that about pretty much any story.” Then I Google the sentence and see that it was a line repeated over and over and over again. (See: The Rise of the Robot Reporters)
This use of artificial intelligence to write news stories isn’t limited to margin players of the news business. It’s being used by the Associated Press, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
The obvious problem with all this, of course, is that such pieces – whether written by computer or clueless human — focus only on the who, what, where and when. They really can’t answer why.
This downgrading strips all nuance, color, flavor and human analysis as to the greater ramifications of what an incident means. Context is lost. A robot writer cannot, for instance, understand the significance of ambulance chasers and what that might mean for society at large. It can only report on who was arrested. Or how much a stock changed relative to expectations. Or the scores of a minor league baseball game.
Computers will never see the fire in the eyes of the people involved. No matter how many shit-blogs are churned out in a subject area, th eye will always be devoid of context.
Even lowly bloggers such as myself get pitched on these “services” with “content writers” sending me emails every day asking for my humble little piece of digital real estate so that they can spam the web with their links attached to generic and dreadful “how to” pieces.
I’d rather this space go quiet than publish their pablum.
The “content” writers, whether they are human or computer generated, can’t deal with emotion. They don’t find humor and heartbreak. They can’t sit back and wonder at why things are the way they are.
As Petchesky noted:
Deadspin was the voice of the long-suffering fan, finding the humor and the heartbreak in everything in the world of sports. It was the fan wondering why he was paying $200 to go to a football game to watch a team whose owner would rather pocket profit than pay to improve the roster. It was also the fan troubled by the culture and the politics of sports, the fan who couldn’t help noticing that the larger issues of the real world spilled onto the field. Sticking to sports, pretending that sports can take place in a vacuum, would have been profoundly dishonest.
It’s only getting worse. Im not sure what, if anything, I can actually do about it. But when quality vanishes in favor of quantity, it should be noted, and a small prayer uttered that people will still see and respect quality, and allow it to rise to the top.