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Opinion: High schoolers can do what AI can't

A high school boys soccer game.
A high school boys soccer game.

"The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday."

That's according to a story that ran last month in The Columbus Dispatch. Go WINNING_TEAM_MASCOTS!

That scintillating lede was written not by a sportswriter, but an artificial intelligence tool. Gannett Newspapers, which owns the Dispatch, says it has since paused its use of AI to write about high school sports.

A Gannett spokesperson said, "(We) are experimenting with automation and AI to build tools for our journalists and add content for our readers..."

Many news organizations, including divisions of NPR, are examining how AI might be used in their work. But if Gannett has begun their AI "experimenting" with high school sports because they believe they are less momentous than war, peace, climate change, the economy, Beyoncé , and politics, they may miss something crucial.

Nothing may be more important to the students who play high school soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, and baseball, and to their families, neighborhoods, and sometimes, whole towns.

That next game is what the students train for, work toward, and dream about. Someday, almost all student athletes will go on to have jobs in front of screens, in office parks, at schools, hospitals or construction sites. They'll have mortgages and children, suffer break-ups and health scares. But the high school games they played and watched, their hopes and cheers, will stay vibrant in their memories.

I have a small idea. If newspapers will no longer send staff reporters to cover high school games, why not hire high school student journalists?

News organizations can pay students an hourly wage to cover high school games. The young reporters might learn how to be fair to all sides, write vividly, and engage readers. That's what the lyrical sports columns of Red Barber, Wendell Smith, Frank DeFord, and Sally Jenkins did, and do. And think of the great writers who have been inspired by sports: Hemingway on fishing, Bernard Malamud and Marianne Moore on baseball, Joyce Carol Oates on boxing, George Plimpton on almost all sports, and CLR James, the West Indian historian who wrote once of cricket, "There can be raw pain and bleeding, where so many thousands see the inevitable ups and downs of only a game."

A good high school writer, unlike a bot, could tell readers not just the score, but the stories of the game.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.