Administering CPR to the Gray Lady


We spend a full day talking about newspapers and their role in legal research in our class.  And throughout the class we make frequent reference to newspapers (such as, for example, searching for news coverage when legislation passes hurdles in Congress).  Of course no one in our class has actually ever purchased a newspaper (except, maybe, on November 5, 2008 ) and we read constant stories about the industry’s demise.  A really interesting (to me, anyway) article in New York magazine discusses various attempts to resuscitate the venerable “paper of record,” the New York Times, known to some as the “Gray Lady” with new applications of technology, features and deep content.

The article mentions various and intriguing uses of new technology (the “Word Train,” “Lifestream” strip and several others), but also touches upon one of the themes of our class:  authority.

The article also mentions the inclusion of primary source documents as “data dumps” along with the “reporter’s cache” of materials.  This has always been a dream of mine — to be able to read a newspaper story about a complaint filed, bill introduced, judicial opinion issued, settlement agreement signed, regulation promulgated and then find a link from the story to the actual document discussed — and not just for “hot documents” but for every legal document noted (I can dream, right?).

Here are a few paragraphs dealing with these ideas:

Perhaps most interesting, there were data dumps of documents. As Guantanamo records emerged, the Times‘ website posted the entire set of legal documentation, affixed to a search engine. Readers could click on William Glaberson’s reportage, but they could also dive into original materials, searching for a particular word or prisoner amid transcripts of legal hearings.

It is of course impossible to see into the future . . .   But Pilhofer has an application in at the Knight Foundation, a proposal for which he’s teamed up with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, seeking funding for software called Document Cloud. Like many innovations, it’s hard to describe until it exists, but from Pilhofer’s account, it would let news organizations display documents on the web–rich transcripts, polling, and other research tools–rendering them easily searchable, commentable, sharable. It could become a journalistic form in itself: the reporter’s cache, embedded in commentary from every corner.

“One of the New York Times” roles in this new world is authority–and that’s probably the rarest commodity on the web,” explains Pilhofer . . . . “That’s why in some respects we’re gung-ho and in other respects very conservative. Everything we do has to be to New York Times standards. Everything. And people are crazy about that. And that’s a good thing.”

(Emphasis added)



“Goosing the Gray Lady: What are these renegade cybergeeks doing at the New York Times? Maybe saving it,” by Emily Nummbaum.  New York, January 19 – 26, 2009, p. 28

1 thought on “Administering CPR to the Gray Lady

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