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A twist on broadcast journalism and sports writing

November 27, 2009 |  6:00 am

What if the nightly newscast you watched were tailored to your interests, and the broadcasters only spoke about the movies you wanted to see, the teams you cared about and the news you deemed pertinent.

Researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., have created a computerized newscast called "News at Seven," which scours blogs, articles, photographs and videos on the Internet and compiles multimedia broadcasts that are delivered by avatars.The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

"News at Seven" even has the capacity to generate opinion-based discussions about movies. The avatars use quotes from movie reviews to coherently "debate" the films. Researchers are currently in the process of trying to give the avatars human-like personalities.

Professor Kristian Hammond and his team are also working on a sister project called "Stats Monkey," which composes baseball-game stories by looking at box scores and play-by-plays. After analyzing the data, the program instantaneously writes a story that captures the essence of the game and its key plays and players. Hammond's team is aiming for the program to include all sports.

" 'Stats Monkey' does a little bit better of a job at writing a game story than the initial short AP story," Hammond said. He added, "We're hoping by next year we're able to write a genuine story with images and quotes for every high school football game that's playing in this country."

Hammond said "Stats Monkey" could even be used for financial and political news. "If there are numbers and the numbers are interpretable," he said, "we can write a news story."

-- Melissa Rohlin