A Happy New Year to you all!

My name is Hank Veggian. Some of you know me as a fellow competitor on the kayak tournament fishing circuit. Others know me as the guy who calls up to ask questions after you’ve had a good day in competition. Some of you don’t know me from Hank Williams, but you’ve read my work on the Kayak Bass Fishing website or on other platforms and in other publications. To quote another old musical act, I get around.

As we kick off the new year, I want to share a few thoughts about technology in our sport. From instant replay to the pitch clock, how to integrate technology is a perennial topic in every game. Those are necessary discussions to have because they help us all determine and communicate the boundaries of competition and its regulation. If you think about it, we have our own versions of replay and the pitch clock in kayak fishing. Replay is when judges review a photo submission (or video of a live release) and the pitch clock is the time stamp cut-off some tournaments use to prevent sand-bagging.

In all of fishing, a big question last year was that of whether tournaments should allow forward facing sonar. Before that, kayak fishing was concerned with the question of human-powered versus motorized kayaks, and whether everyone would have to buy an electric motor in order to keep up – literally and figuratively- with the competition. In short, we are always inventing things and always figuring out how to integrate them into a sport. Sometimes, the technology is innovative and helpful, and sometimes the money just talks. Usually it’s a combination of the two. After some discussion, we generally resolve to say “it’s here to stay, so we may as well deal with it and move on.”

Now what if I told you that I hadn’t written any of the words you just read? Would you still answer the phone when I called after a tournament? Would you trust me to do the right thing with your quotes or other information you passed along? Or would there be an asterisk next to my name in the directory of American outdoor writers? “Hank Veggian – the guy who passed off computer-generated writing as his own.”

Proof of Work, 2023.

And how would you even know whether I did or didn’t write them? Could you ask for proof of work?

The computer-generated writing I referred to above is brought to you by machine learning, or “AI” as most people call it these days. I won’t get into the details of how it works. I will focus here on how it affects sports, and our sport. Note the present tense; that’s because it is already happening.

Not long ago, the news broke that Sports Illustrated had hired a third-party media company to produce content for the SI website. That third-party had created fake journalist profiles, and posted AI-generated content, passing it off as if it were written by actual humans. You might have even read some of that fraudulent text and thought it was written by a person who knew what they were talking about and, out of a devotion to the First Amendment, was doing their job the correct way in order to spread information for the public good. By clicking on it, you thought you were supporting American-made journalism.

Oops.

Right now, there are only a small handful of legitimate news sources covering the sport of kayak fishing. Fewer still devote coverage to tournament fishing. The legitimate writers doing that work are also few. We work long hours and some of us don’t get paid; those who do get paid don’t get paid much. Why do we do the work? It’s because we want to represent the sport with the legitimacy and credibility it deserves. In fact, if you look at our resumés, most of us are kayak anglers. We know the scene, the companies and the people. We know the lakes, where we have also spent long hours on the water grinding for points and checks. And we know what feels like to win and also what it feels like to lose.

When I call anglers, they know that when they answer there is a professional on the other end of the line. I take notes and save them, I hold my promise to keep certain quotes off the record, I record things, I fact-check and I edit the work. I also know the laws that protect me and you and, beyond that, I have a good idea of how news circulates in the media. From the raw material to the refined product, I’m a one-man newsroom. Why do all that work? It’s because I want to present you and our sport in the best possible light.  Note the word “want”. It’s a desire, not an obligation.

Three Writers: L-R, Christopher Decker (Bassmaster Magazine), Hank Veggian (KBF), Eric Nelson (Basstrail.com).

But it’s not always easy. There are people (and now computers) out there posing as journalists, who steal from us and lie to you.

Here is an example from real life: not long ago, I came across an article about kayak fishing in an outdoors magazine. I love reading about our sport – it keeps me current and it helps me to see how other professionals go about their work. When I reached the half-way point of the article, I thought “Wait, I must have read this article yesterday.” I kept going and it happened again. And then it hit me: several paragraphs from the article were directly copied and pasted (a.k.a. plagiarized) from one of my posts to the Kayak Bass Fishing website. The “journalist” had merely stolen my work for KBF and passed it off as his own. No credit, no acknowledgment, no permission. He stole from me, from KBF and from you: he stole our trust.

I didn’t go on-line and blast the guy. I made some calls and it was handled. But the incident got me wondering: what if I hadn’t spotted it? And what if I was a reader who didn’t know it was stolen from someone else?

Here is another way to frame the question: what’s the difference between the thief I described above and a computer? Who do you trust more – or less – the thief or the computer? Would you trust the computer to drive your car with your kids inside it? Would you trust a person who plagiarizes someone’s work to handle your tax returns? Or drive your car with your kids inside it?

Working in the media is a wild experience these days. The space is filled with legitimate professionals and crazy imposters. Some folks think it’s okay to bend the truth or pretend that things didn’t happen. One athlete last year posted an AI-generated apology. How sincere.

You won’t find that nonsense in anything I write for KBF. I grew up in a newsroom and my old man was a journalist in this country for a half-century. Credibility is not to be taken lightly. You can’t ignore the reality of a situation. If it happened, and it is relevant, you have to report it.

And so reporting news requires full disclosure, and also admitting mistakes. For example, I had some health issues and didn’t cover the Knuklhed events in Alabama as I would have liked this past November. I squeezed in a preview but I never caught up with the winners. When a KBF competitor was disqualified some years ago I added a footnote to the recap after I revised it; when it happened to another angler, I gave him a chance to explain his error. He did so, and admirably.

Thieves and computers can pretend people don’t exist. Computers and thieves can pretend that mistakes weren’t made. Writers can’t, don’t and won’t.

What does it all add up to? Trust. The few writers in our sport have gained the trust of anglers. In my case, some might say that was the easy part, because many knew me as a competitor. That’s not necessarily the case. In fact, they might have kept things from me because I was a competitor. But they didn’t, and that’s how I know they are true.

Trust is a two-way street. Can KBF cover every event and angler? No. The company simply does not have the resources at this time. But go to the website and search something in kayak fishing that you think KBF would not mention, and see what comes up. Or listen to Chad Hoover on one of his Facebook live events. Talk about full disclosure. Can a computer generate comparable honesty, or creativity, or contrition?

No, it can’t. A computer can’t call Rus Snyders or Rachel Uribe and ask follow up questions the day after the interview. Hell, it can’t even improvise during the interview. A computer can’t truthfully describe what the water at Paris Landing looks like on Kentucky Lake immediately after a big storm – it can only copy and re-assemble what others have said about it. A computer can’t sense that an angler is tired and wants to get off the phone in order to rest before the final day of the tournament begins tomorrow.

The things that we value most are not perfect, but they are definitely not automated.

I will conclude with another example, one that also involves sports.

There’s an old episode of the Twilight Zone about a fictional baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs. They are an awful team, and desperate. One day a man shows up with a rookie named Casey during the team’s practice, and the team manager allows Casey to throw a few pitches. They soon realize that Casey is a nearly unhittable ace.  Once they have Casey, they start to win.

Soon enough, Casey is the talk of the sporting world; the TV screen flashes newspaper headlines exclaiming Casey’s prowess. At the apex of the hype, however, a ball that is hit into play knocks Casey out of a game. While being treated at the hospitals the doctors figure out that Casey doesn’t have a heartbeat. The cat leaves the bag and the commissioner finds out that the “athlete” is a robot. After some discussion, the team proposes a way to avoid punishment: what if we can put a heart in the robot? Will “it” become a “he,” and be allowed to play? The answer is yes, and yes.

Casey gets a heart transplant and when he returns to the mound he gives up fourteen runs in the first inning. The team manager confronts Casey after the game. The problem? Casey has a heart now, and he doesn’t want to make the athletes look bad. “I just can’t hurt fellas’ careers,” he says.

As the episode ends, you might start to think that the moral of the story is “you can’t make a machine into a man.” But as it winds down, the team manager runs off after Casey’s inventor. We don’t hear it, but he is clearly pitching an idea. And then we get the actual moral of the story.

It turns out that the manager and the inventor go on to design undetectable robots. The manager’s next team breaks all kinds of records. The moral: you can’t make a machine into a man, but a man can turn into a machine.

Hank interviewing Jake Angulas, KBF Trail I, Potomac River (Stafford VA, 2023).

Normally, I would ask Chad to write a few words to kick off the season, but this year I asked permission to speak my mind, to explain what I do for KBF and to make a point about a technology that affects us all, in fishing and beyond it. The technology isn’t necessarily “bad;” but some people use it dishonestly.

Kayak Bass Fishing is primarily a media company. In addition to organizing tournaments for competition or charity (or both), KBF advertises sponsor brands and anglers, promotes host entities and their communities, and produces media content about the sport of kayak fishing. In a given year, we usually publish more content about kayak tournament fishing than anyone else does. It’s an investment in our sport, it’s an investment in the KBF membership and it is an investment in all of us.

And it’s human-powered.

Looking ahead to 2024, I hope to see you on the water and at the check-ins. I hope we will chat after you cash some checks and I hope that fishing will bring you happiness, satisfaction and success, whatever that may mean to you.

Sincerely,

Hank Veggian

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First Published January 1, 2024. The author of this article was not assisted in any way by AI or machine learning in the composition of it.

© 2024 Kayak Bass Fishing. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the written consent of Kayak Bass Fishing.

Additional Credits

Cover Photo: Copyright Hank Veggian, 2023. Used by permission. Photo was taken by Nick Audi in hotel lot near Stafford, VA, after the KBF Trail I, Potomac River, April 2023.

Group Photo Copyright Hank Veggian, 2023. Used by permission. Photo was taken at a check in for a Central Carolina Kayak Fishing event in the lot at Upper Barton ramp on falls Lake, N.C., March 2023

Proof of work photo Copyright Hank Veggian, 2023. Used by permission. December 2023.