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NY Times Continues to Push Old-Media Boundaries

UPDATED

Two interesting developments today at the New York Times online:

Picture 72The first, and most noteworthy, is the paper’s welcome discovery that aggregation of and links to things it didn’t produce in-house improve the audience experience. As the graphic shows, the green-highlighted items below the story summaries are links to coverage in other media — including bloggers and direct competitors. The technology behind this feature comes from Blogrunner, a news aggregator the Times acquired a while back.
No, this is not a new idea. In fact, it’s as old as the Web, and the Times’ own Frank Rich has been doing it liberally for some time in his Sunday column. But to see the Times do it in this way — on the home page (and section homes) is a step forward. It moves the paper much more into the linked world we all now inhabit.

The other interesting item in the online edition is an exchange between U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat who was the subject of a tough investigative piece recently. Rangel replied, and the Times responded right next to his long letter on this page.

Rangel Responds

The numbers — footnotes, essentially — in the Rangel letter correspond to the newspaper’s responses to his points. Oddly there are no hyperlinks, but that’s a relatively small quibble.

There are even better ways to display these kinds of exchanges. But it’s great to see the paper experimenting with this kind of conversational journalism. I hope these will become more common.

UPDATE: Poynter Online interviewed Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who said that the paper hadn’t done anything quite like this before. But he added, “I don’t expect it to be the last.”

(Disclosure: I’m own a small amount of New York Times Co. stock, which is worth a lot less than I paid for it…)

4 Comments on “NY Times Continues to Push Old-Media Boundaries”

  1. #1 Jon Garfunkel
    on Dec 6th, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Yes, the Rangel exchange is somewhat groundbreaking, I noticed that.

    As for the first point, there’s some confusion here. Let’s establish that there are generally six types of “external” content related to an article:

    a) Web resources known to the reporter at the time of writing the article.
    b) Parallel online coverage
    c) Previous coverage in the same pub
    d) Responding blog posts, post publication
    e) Online reader responses (post pub)
    f) “letters to the editor” regarding this article (post pub)

    Indeed, Frank Rich has being doing (a) for a while– as have Nick Kristof, and any web-native publication following Slate and Salon.

    You assert that it is (b). This technology exists, from Sphere and Google News, but I don’t think this is what the NYT is employing here (I don’t even see it today). Sphere was marketed in order for newspapers to do (c). As far as “parallel coverage”, I sense that many enthusiasts push this, but I don’t see anything beyond ideology for this. My guess is that

    To my knowledge, blogrunner provides (d). But the NYT has owned blogrunner since 2006, and still doesn’t do this consistent on every article. The Washington Post has been including a link to Technorati back-links since 2005.

    The rest (d,e,f) is post-publication. I have advocated, in LetterVox that newspapers can set up a single form to accept this input.

    Whether more input comes bloggers or commenters post-publication is still unknown– it very well could be calculated, but to my knowledge no one has done so since I discussed this with Rob Niles on OJR years ago.

    The problem also is organizing this. In fact, it was our very first discussion at Harvard four years ago. Commenting doesn’t “scale” in the sense that it takes linear time to read through all of them. Trackbacks, as well, suffer from the fact that there is no semantic way to describe the relationship from blog post to article.

  2. #2 Dear New York Times,
    on Dec 7th, 2008 at 11:25 am

    It’s great that the NYT is making progress. Is it enough? Here’s my note to them today….

    Dear NY Times,

    I have read your paper, unfaithfully but regularly, for thirty-five years now. A few times, you mentioned me in articles, albeit never above the fold on the front page. More importantly, you have faithfully provided me with the news and reading that I wanted.

    I’m not writing to thank you. I’ve done that by being a subscriber. Again, I’ve had subscriptions off and on for more than three decades depending on my finances and living arrangements. These days, I read you online most days and subscribe to the paper edition on your three day weekend deal. Oh, congratulations on the TV advertising campaign for this program: it got me back after several years of only reading it online. Did I mention that I use to pay to read you online and when you make it free, you refunded my money? That was really something.

    I’m writing to express my fear that our relationship is taking a turn for the worse due to your uninspired progress into the online world. This morning, you really annoyed me by faulting way short of my expectations. You appear downright clumbsy. This morning, I read an article (in the paper version) by Gretchen about the rating agencies: Debt Watchdogs: Tamed or Caught Napping. I have strong feelings about the article and topic so I fired up my PC to add my comments onto the article. I found the article and tried to find where to put up a comment.

    There is no comment here link at the beginning or end of the article! I’m flabbergasted. I’m confused. I’m now searching the NYT website for how one participates in the discussions. After some efforts, I discover that there are forums for discussion but, as I write this, they’re not functioning.

    Service Unavailable
    The forums are temporarily unavailable. You have probably received this message due to high traffic to our forums database. We regret the inconvenience. Please wait a few minutes and try again.

    And now, it’s ninety minutes later and the forums are still down. How is this possible? Here are a few specific policy suggestions for you. If you implement these ideas, our relationship could be lifelong. If you don’t, then some start-up or Google will beat you to the punch of becoming the defacto standard going forward. And I’ll going from just being periodically unfaithful by getting involved with other news services to a more fundamental attaching myself to someone else as my main squeeze. I’m rooting for you but to be frank, we’re not married. It’s not for better or worse, you need to keep winning me.
    1. Your forum or discussion pool should never be down for more than a few minutes. I run a tiny online company and we keep our forum running 24/7 despite all the attacks and stuff. You should be able to to.
    2. Major articles should link right into the discussion thread on that topic. The link should be from the top and from the bottom.
    3. The future of you as a news service and a business has a lot to do with how rapidly and effectively you execute in this area (plus customized news services online such as customized subscriptions such as DailyMe or GoogleNews)
    4. Skip debating what this should work like. Read the old Ender’s Game SciFi book and use that as a blueprint for much of what the new network should work like.

  3. #3 What Newspapers Need to do Tomorrow to Survive
    on Dec 7th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    [...] additional information written by bloggers and in some cases, even their direct competitors. [source] While this isn’t anything new for those of us who are used to the social media world, [...]

  4. #4 Giornali USA in crisi, nonostante il digitale : Yurait Social Blog
    on Dec 9th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    [...] di news aggregation. Mentre il blog del Center for Citizen Media riporta le altre “spinte oltre i confini dei media tradizionali” in corso al New York Times online, da pezzi investigativi al giornalismo conversazionale. In [...]