The New York Times' new Doc Viewer 2.0 is, depending on what you value, either a pasted-on ornament of no real use to a typical news consumer, or it's an open-source, crowd-sourcing game changer.
With information-taming technologies like search engines already at a reader's fingertips, there is debatable value in the Doc Viewer's ability to annotate a story with "raw" information. However, the fact that the Doc Viewer's code is due to be released on an open-source basis introduces an additional value to it. It is not just the back-end that a media source, of whatever size, will have access to, but the whole megillah.
Want annotated source materials embedded in your kitty blog without having to churn code until the tears flow? You can do it.
This latest viewer by the New York Times is the latest iteration of a two year development process. The viewer allows reporters to augment stories by including evidentiary documentation and providing context to news stories. The viewer keys documents to words or phrases in the source story, allowing viewers to pursue the process to the depth they prefer. These "annotations" are similar to an old-fashioned "hot link" but with a new-fangled dynamic delivery.
The key criticism to this undertaking, of course, is: so what?
BayNewswer quoted Aron Pilhofer, the paper's editor for interactive newsroom technologies, as "recognizing that news organizations are slowly but gradually becoming more and more like technology companies." They are, that is, more likely to triumph if they leverage a wider distribution of invested community members.
Alan McLean, interface engineer at the Times, says his focus is on the Doc Viewer as a reporting tool.
"Fundamentally what we are trying to do here is get as many tools in the belts of reporters as we can to assist them in telling stories online," he told RWW. "Seeing it as a publishing platform is somewhat limited. It really depends on the kind of content that is being published."
However, Chris Heisel, in a post on an earlier version of this viewer, said, "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 read news in a politically and socially polarized environment. The most common charge against the NY Times - this most mainstream of MSM - is bias, that there is nothing more than a writer's unexamined feelings or political secret sauce to support the angle of a given story. With foundational documents appended to the story itself, the reasonableness of the reporter's approach should prove easier to determine.
But that is posited on the not-altogether-likely notion that reason and reality will overpower the desire to froth.
The New York Times is a syndication partner of ReadWriteWeb.