There’s been a lot of chatter about the newspaper industry in recent weeks — about whether newspaper companies should find something like iTunes, or use micropayments as a way to charge people for the news, or sue Google, or all of the above — and how journalism is at risk because newspapers are dying. But there’s been very little discussion about something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way that newspapers function (or at least one newspaper in particular), and that is the release of the New York Times’ open API for news stories. The Times has talked about this project since last year sometime, and it has finally happened; as developer Derek Gottfrid describes on the Open blog, programmers and developers can now easily access 2.8 million news articles going back to 1981 (although they are only free back to 1987) and sort them based on 28 different tags, keywords and fields.

It’s possible that this kind of thing escapes the notice of traditional journalists because it involves programming, and terms like API (which stands for “application programming interface”), and is therefore not really journalism-related or even media-related, and can be understood only by nerds and geeks. But if there’s one thing that people like Adrian Holovaty (lead developer of Django and founder of Everyblock) have shown us, it is that broadly speaking, content — including the news — is just data, and if it is properly parsed and indexed it can become something quite incredible: a kind of proto-journalism, that can be formed and shaped in dozens or even hundreds of different ways.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

About the author

Mathew 2414 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

7 Responses to “The NYT API: Newspaper as platform”
  1. Somehow, a developers opportunity

  2. Mathew,

    I think the new API is not quite “something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way that newspapers function” nor does it give access to “2.8 million news articles.” And it does not give the capability to “become something quite incredible”, at least in its present form.

    The API allows retrieval of headlines and ledes, not the articles themselves. It allows the use of very rudimentary queries, quite a bit more limited than anyone can use with, for example, Google; these do not allow sophisticated discovery of patterns, etc.

    And finally, if you do manage to figure out some really nifty use, you may discover the NYT is “coincidently” starting a beta test of the same thing. And if that happens, guess what? The TOS says you can't compete with them.

    In general, I would be reluctant to make much investment in a business which depends on 3rd party cooperation under a TOS like that.

    • Thanks for the comment, Terry. I agree that the API is somewhat limited, but I do think that patterns can be discerned from even headlines and ledes (as well as the other fields that the API gives you access to). As far as the competition part goes, I'm not suggesting someone build a business around this API — simply that it could be a very useful tool, in the same way that Google Maps is a useful tool.

  3. Mathew,

    I think the new API is not quite “something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way that newspapers function” nor does it give access to “2.8 million news articles.” And it does not give the capability to “become something quite incredible”, at least in its present form.

    The API allows retrieval of headlines and ledes, not the articles themselves. It allows the use of very rudimentary queries, quite a bit more limited than anyone can use with, for example, Google; these do not allow sophisticated discovery of patterns, etc.

    And finally, if you do manage to figure out some really nifty use, you may discover the NYT is “coincidently” starting a beta test of the same thing. And if that happens, guess what? The TOS says you can't compete with them.

    In general, I would be reluctant to make much investment in a business which depends on 3rd party cooperation under a TOS like that.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Terry. I agree that the API is somewhat limited, but I do think that patterns can be discerned from even headlines and ledes (as well as the other fields that the API gives you access to). As far as the competition part goes, I'm not suggesting someone build a business around this API — simply that it could be a very useful tool, in the same way that Google Maps is a useful tool.

  5. […] where its mouth is in terms of turning its paper into a platform (to use the title of a blog post I wrote when the NYT came out with its open API). Not to denigrate what the Times has done at all, mind you […]

  6. […] where its mouth is in terms of turning its paper into a platform (to use the title of a blog post I wrote when the NYT came out with its open API). Not to denigrate what the Times has done at all, mind you […]

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