Digging a new River for the NYTimes

nytimesriverDave says “The New York Times home page needs a re-think.” But he doesn’t stop there, because thinking isn’t enough and complaining is worse than useless. (As I’ve often found. For example, here.)

We need to hack up something new, different, better and — most of all — simpler and easier to implement than anything the Times can do on its own.

(The Times is kinda busy now anyway. And it’s not inclined to simplicity, especially on the Web. That’s not a knock. We’re talking DNA here. But the Times can listen and act, as it did back when Martin Nisenholtz and his team followed Dave’s lead and adopted RSS, reforming and reinvigorating the whole publishing business in the process. We want the same kind of adoption and effects again this time.)

The simplest thing you can do as a programmer is leverage something Dave came up with years ago called river of news. As a reader you can blog, tweet and otherwise submit to the world your suggestions.

Hashtag: #timesriver.

Tagline: All the news that’s fit to flow.

Here’s Dave’s own current set of rivers.

That’s a handy model, but neither Dave nor I want that to restrict your thinking or your coding. We want new thinking, new hacking, new (and renewed) heads on the case and fingers on keyboards.

For that Dave has convened a hackathon. Here’s how he got it rolling:

Here’s an OPML file with all the NYT feeds I could find, in Oct 2012.#

Your task: Build a website using the flow of these feeds. A new way to sample the flow of news from the NYT.#

Here’s what I’m using now, designed years ago. Surely you can do better!#

Share a pointer to your work with this hashtag: #nytfeedfun.#

There’s a lot of data flowing through there. #

A picture of a slice of cheese cake.

PS: Deadline? We’re having an RSS meetup in NYC in mid-June.#

Guidance from my (non-programming) corner:::

Think about turning the Times from a static thing to a live one* — literally, from a paper to a river.

Think about how a river forms. Its sources are tributaries: branches that flow in, not out. The biggest rivers sustain life in their waters and alongside their banks. They are at the very core of culture and civilization. And they pour out through a delta to the ocean. The ocean is the Web. The delta is whatever we make it.

I’ll be writing more about this topic in the coming days and weeks, both in service to journalism’s cause (whatever it is — and I mean that seriously) and to wrap my tour of duty as a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter,Journalism Institute. (In that I’m following the large footsteps of Dave, who served in the same post under our friend and mentor Jay Rosen.)

So hack away. I’m very eager to see the results — but not as eager as I hope the Times itself will be — for everybody’s sake. (I’m serious about that too. The Times is the anchor institution for civilization as well as journalism. Helping it adapt may be the highest calling we have.)

* Some background on the static/live distinction, written almost a decade ago, and now more relevant than ever.

4 comments

  1. Max’s avatar

    It’s worth noting that the Times created its own “river” page years ago. I check on it throughout the day and am often rewarded with a bit of serendipity.
    http://www.nytimes.com/timeswire/

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for pointing that out.

    What Dave calls for, however, is a new river-based approach to the front page. Obviously, one can go straight to TimesWire, but a missing piece (to me at least) is sourcing for stories outside of the Times itself: what Jay and others call networked journalism. This is why I expanded the metaphorical river to include tributaries that feed in. Those need not only be sources in the contact lists of reporters.

    As Dan Gillmor famously said, “My readers know more than I do.” I’d like to see that principle embodied in whatever code gets written in the hackathon.

  3. Jim’s avatar

    One of the Problem with The NY Times site is the loss of information, I had no idea that a water main broke on Ludow street. It seems to fall off the map once it published. There is not a good search engine at the Times, so I do not get the stories. The same with river: I need to setup basins or tags to catch the interested story.

  4. Perry’s avatar

    Love the #riverdance ;) wish I had more time to engage on this kind of initiative. Look forward to seeing what surfaces.

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