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Copyright 2016 The Salt Lake Tribune
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The Salt Lake Tribune


The war against the machines has begun, and you might have missed the first cries of battle.

Forget our national schism, the protests on the streets in cities across the country, these remorseless, robotic monsters are the ones coming to destroy your way of life right down to the very newsprint upon which these words live.

But fear not. There will be no waiting for the savior foretold in the prophecies. We have our hero. We know his name. It is he, Mark Cuban, of Dallas, Texas, USA.

Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, took it upon himself to lead the charge against the robo-journalists of the apocalypse, digging his heels in on what he sees as the slippery slope in a world where computers and automated reporting completely replace the ink-stained piles of flesh and blood on press row.

It is a sentiment, prima facie, this living, breathing human writer appreciates. Unlike the machines, we require food to survive and, aside from the occasional press box meal, the stuff isn't free. But we do take exception with Cuban's weapon of choice on the front lines of this bizarre battle: human sacrifice.

To make his point, his stand against the march of the machines, Cuban says he decided last week to revoke the season credentials of two respected ESPN reporters, Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein, upon finding out that the sports conglomerate would be relying on wire services for game coverage of 19 of the 30 teams in the NBA.

"Maybe I will be wrong but I see a direct path from the trends in coverage of games we are seeing over the last couple years to the automation of reporting on games and the curation of related content," Cuban wrote in an email to the Associated Press.

This, shall we say, does not compute.

ESPN has never employed a beat writer for each team in the league, instead assigning individual reporters to basketball's high-profile outposts ccc Golden State, Los Angeles, New York, Oklahoma City and, yes, Dallas ccc and relying on the Associated Press to supply reports from the remaining markets. It is true the AP now uses the algorithms inside something called Automated Insights to generate stories from minor league baseball games, but the AP employs warm-blooded writers in every market to cover every NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL game played.

That certainly throws Cuban's true motives into question.

It seems Cuban is miffed about a lack of coverage. The Mavericks, the 2011 NBA champions and postseason regular over the past 15 years, currently sit at 2-6 on the young season, good only for 14th in the West. As such, ESPN was poised to reallocate its assets some, taking MacMahon out of Dallas on occasion to provide better coverage of Western Conference teams without full-time ESPN reporters assigned to them ccc teams such as the Jazz.

Late Friday, Cuban announced he had lifted his ban after ESPN apparently agreed to use "links to local and team provided coverage of every NBA game" on its website. Now these men can finally get back into the arena and back onto press row. In the battle against the bots, that's where good reporters like MacMahon and Stein excel: developing relationships, spotting curious tidbits on the sidelines, then breaking news and crafting interesting reports, stories told with heart.

Everyone, man and machine, should be able to see that.

Twitter: @aaronfalk

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November 13, 2016


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