In The Tin Men, Michael Frayn’s 1965 comic novel about the dawning computer age, Goldwasser — one of the main characters — is fixated on creating automated news stories based on certain formulaic tropes.
His research team is attempting to prove that “in theory a digital computer could be programmed to produce a perfectly satisfactory daily newspaper with all the variety and news sense of the old hand-made article. With silent, infinite tedium, they worked their way through stacks of newspaper cuttings, identifying the pattern of stories, and analysing the stories into standard variables and invariables….Once Goldwasser and his colleagues had proved the theory, commercial interests would no doubt swiftly put it into practice. The stylisation of the modern newspaper would be complete. Its last residual connection with the raw, messy, offendable real world would have been broken.”
Of course, we’ve made a lot of progress in 48 years, and much news is indeed produced via automated processes. But you still have to put some words in between the two photos that go underneath the headline, “Bryce Harper with Mickey Mouse.” Even if those words are just quotes from an ancient novel about automating the news process.
Also, there are maybe 10 Major League Baseball players who can pull off the SI/Men’s Health/Mickey Mouse trifecta. Maybe. Five years from now, Harper will almost inevitably have the most endorsement deals of any currently active player. And I’ll still be quoting from used books.