New York Times releasing document viewer, missing the point

[E-media Tidbits]( is reporting that the [New York Times]( is [releasing an open-source document viewer](

To be fully buzzword compliant it’s both built in [Ruby on Rails]( and there’ll be [Amazon EC2 instances available]( (Actually the EC2 instance is kind of a neat way to distribute software…)

While I’m sure this will set off a storm of journalists a-blogging’ about how awesome this is, and how much of a **public service** this will be I feel compelled to call bullshit on that.

Come on! In a world where I can [easily find]( more [information]( [than I can ever possibly use]( does the public really need **more** access to **raw information**.

We’re [drowning]( in information. What a great deal of users are looking for is context, analysis and filtering of that information.

To conclude I’ll drop in an entire appropriate, and completely gratuitous, [Jon Stewart clip]( that exemplifies what I’d like to see more of from journalists:

About Chris

Python developer, Agile practitioner trying desperately not to be a pointy haired boss.
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4 Responses to New York Times releasing document viewer, missing the point

  1. Aron Pilhofer says:

    Hi Chris, and thanks for the feedback.

    Interesting take on this. I guess we disagree on the question of whether the public should have more access to raw source documents, which are often quite difficult to find at your average and tend to be a fairly lousy user experience when you can find them.

    Ironically enough, the whole thing came up at ONA (it wasn’t part of the presentation) because a person in the audience who runs a news blog in New York saw a version of the document viewer in my slides. She asked whether it was something we might make generally available, since her site was having a very difficult time trying to get documents online. So, there you go.

    Finally, we’re not making this just a Rails thing. We’d ultimately like to make versions available for Django, PHP and whatever other platform folks want to help us out with. All open source. If you change your mind, please drop me a line. We could certainly use the help!

  2. Chris says:


    It’s not that I think folks shouldn’t have access to even more public information than they have access to today.

    My concern is more that journalists will use the existence of this tool to merely throw more documents online — treating it as an infinite storage device and leaving thoughtful analysis and filtering by the wayside.

    You can sum up the current crisis in journalism as a struggle to define how we can best bring value to readers in a dramatically changed media landscape.

    If journalists use the tool as a low-cost means to publish the documents they gather and pair that with a filtering and analysis job then I think it’s a fine thing.

    My worry is more about the misuse of the tool, than the existence of the tool itself.

    I’m glad to hear you’re open sourcing the tool, I’d love to hack away a Python version!

  3. Aron Pilhofer says:

    Totally legitimate concern. I could riff at some length about companies that encourage thoughtless use of technology. They in fact have business models that depend on it.

    But that’s not what we’re shooting for here at all. If we are fortunate enough to see this thing widely adopted (far, far from a given), I think the net effect will be to improve transparency, remove barriers (cost and technical) and encourage more of what we as journalists do best: filtering and analysis.

    If it doesn’t, then, yes, we fail. I’ll drop you a note offline and we can talk about Pythonizing it.

  4. Chris says:


    I figured y’alls heart was in the right place, I guess was in a “cautionary tale” mood when I blogged about it 🙂

    About Pythonizing it, that sounds great!

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