I love and frequently recommend Al Weigart’s, “Automate the Boring Stuff with Python”, because it so perfectly captures how I feel about programming: programming is how we tell computers what to do. And computers, like all of the best mechanical inventions in existence, are best at doing mechanical, i.e. boring work.

The inverse of that mentality – that computers should/can be used to automate the interesting work of our lives – can be found in this blog post (h/t @ndiakopoulos) from the research blog Immersive Automation:

[Can computers quote like human journalists, and should they?](http://immersiveautomation.com/2017/03/can-computers-quote-like-human-journalists/)

(emphasis added)

When a reader enjoys a story in a magazine, they have no way of knowing how an interview between a journalist and a source was conducted. Even quotations – which are widely considered being verbatim repetitions of what has been said in the interview – might be very accurate, but they might as well be heavily modified, or even partially trumped-up.

“For journalists, and their editors, **the most important thing is of course to produce a good piece of writing**. This means they might be forced to make compromises, since the citations must serve a purpose for the story,” Lauri Haapanen explains.

The rest of the post goes on to describe “nine essential quoting strategies used by journalists when writing articles”, which is an interesting discussion in itself. But I wanted to point out how fuzzy (or misguided) the statement bolded above is:

For journalists, and their editors, **the most important thing is of course to produce a good piece of writing**.


The most important thing to a journalist is to produce interesting reporting.

Let’s look at the ledes – often considered the part of a story where good writing has (and needs) the most impact – of some published journalism:

Those are the ledes for the winners of what is often considered journalism’s most important prize: the Pulitzer Prizer for Public Service


News & Observer in 1996

Boston Globe in Sun Sentinel in 2013,

North Carolina, hundreds of miles from America's traditional Midwest hog belt, has become the nation's No. 2 hog producer. Last year, hogs generated more than $1 billion in revenue -- more than tobacco. This year, hogs are expected to pass broiler chickens as the No. 1 agricultural commodity.

One of the five men arrested early Saturday in the attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters is the salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee.

The District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department has shot and killed more people per resident in the 1990s than any other large American city police force.

Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, pays its top officials some of the highest salaries in the nation, including nearly $800,000 annually for its city manager, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

Since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes.

Here’s a clickbait version:

  We've all seen it, and now there's proof: Police officers sworn to uphold our traffic laws are among the worst speeders on South Florida roads.


And here are a couple of ledes from the la times, which, when read in isolation, falls into the “OK is Dunia and why should I give a shit?”


But “just the facts” isn’t the sole mark of a good

On a warm July afternoon, an impish second-grader named Dunia Tasejo was running home after buying ice cream on her South Los Angeles street when a car sideswiped her. Knocked to the pavement, she screamed for help, blood pouring from her mouth.

I’m being unfair, maybe, because “good” can encompass all of those examples. But that’s my point – “good writing” has no obvious meaning when it comes to journalism or any other form of writing. It is up to the discretion and style of the writers.

But important journalism – journalism that is important to publish. It’s facts.

I went into journalism because I liked writing and am old enough that, when I worked for my college paper, it had enough paper to print 10,000 words, in actual pieces of paper with real ink.

But I don’t think that computers can’t replace a lot of what humans do. They already do – page layout, copy-editing (of the spell-check variety), and research (of the Google-variety) – have all been replaced. Because much of it was mechanical. But the biggest outlets still hire copy editors (also known as fact checkers) and researchers for the bespoke work.

How much of quoting is bespoke work? Depends. I contend that of all the parts of writing that can be automated, it’s one of the least in terms of return on investment.

To describe writing like this:

The Immersive Automation-project focuses on news automation and algorithmically produced news. Since human-written journalistic texts often contain quotations, automated content should also include them to meet the traditional expectations of readers.

No it shouldn’t. That’s one of the things I learned in journalism school: don’t quote parts just repeat someone.

In the development process of news automation, it is realistic to expect human journalists and machines to collaborate.

“A text generator could write a story and a journalist could interview sources and add quotations in suitable places,” says Haapanen.

Also the headline annoys me. It’s not about can. Nor is it about should.