New York Times Makes Massive Leap in Bringing Congressional Data to the Web

For all the talk in DC about transparency in government, that seemed (at least in my sense) to really come to the forefront of everyone’s attention with the House Rules on social media use issue last July, then escalated with the Senate, the bailouts and finally the election of one of the most social media savvy presidents ever, the status quo has been largely wishing for transparency and talking about it.

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The New York Times decided to take it a step farther today by actually providing data in the form of the Congress API. This data is pulled from the House and Senate websites but I have to guess also includes data that is mined from the Congressional Record, the daily public account of all official business that is still, ironically, published in print form en masse. Up until now, the Congressional Record has been available upon request and is hard to actually get real signal from amidst the noise of process and procedure.

With the NY Times Congress API, it is now possible for developers to build tools that mine the Record for roll call votes, members of each chamber, and information about members including chairmanships or committee memberships.

It will be interesting to see how this data is used and how it can be leveraged to keep the government honest. Developers can check out the technical details here.

Roadmap to Victory at Washington Post

Early last month, after the Tribune Company announced that it would enter bankruptcy protection, the conversation surrounding the demise of newspapers and the newspaper industry heated back up. Of course, we suggested that there should be an opportunity for new media to emerge in the newsrooms.

Today, the news comes from the New York Times that Phillip Bennett, the number two man at the Washington Post is stepping down joining the former WashingtonPost.com executive editor, Jim Brady, who also resigned recently.

thewashingtonpostThe Washington Post was one of the early newspapers who tinkered with social media tools in their online offering by utilizing a widget to display links to blogs that wrote about their stories. However, since then, they have not innovated all that much. Sure, they have blogs, but what major newspapers doesn’t? And really, does a blog matter if it isn’t compelling?

If I were on the inside of the Washington Post, I’d offer the following roadmap to a viable business entity.

  1. Combine resources of online and print media. No story should be exclusive to one or the other.
  2. Recognize that the business future does not lie in print and print subscriptions, but in online. Change business model to reflect a more traditional online content network. This is a wide swing from a subscription paper model.
  3. Develop content sharing partnerships with other newspapers. Washington Post has already done this with the Baltimore Sun. Suggest the The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald or the San Francisco Chronicle to round out other-coastly or international perspective. Not sure how this would be mutually beneficial, but each publication will have its own interests that would need to be examined.
  4. Replace the Op-Ed section with blogs but use syndicated content from external blogs. Eliminate home grown blogs altogether.
  5. Develop online video channel on YouTube and bring into the online WaPo offering.
  6. In a related sense, develop a rich media network of content including podcasts – maybe primarily podcasts, due to the lack of exclusive attention required.
  7. Hire internally, or bring someone in from outside, to help the online business adapt to the new and changing landscape involving the internet and social media. The Toronto Globe & Mail did this with Mat Ingram.

I’d like to throw out one self-serving offer, since I know that there are increasingly a number of newspapers who are watching, reading or otherwise paying attention to our content here – I’m happy to discuss opportunities where I can step in and help. Sometimes that outside set of eyes is what is needed. Drop me a line at aaron@technosailor.com or call me at (410) 608-6620.

The Roadmap For Building a 21st Century Newspaper

Yesterday, I weighed in on the Tribune Company bankruptcy filing, noting that where voids might be created by the disappearance of established newspaper brands, there was opportunity for those nimble enough and digitally savvy enough to adjust. In my mind, as I wrote that, I was thinking primarily of alternate newspapers, but had a dream somewhere in the recesses of my head that there would, or could be an answer from the blog world. That there were blogs with enough presence and notoriety that could fill the void left by a major daily. Of course, power players exist but are generally single vertical sites (i.e. Engadget operates in the tech gadgets space) that don’t have the wide-ranging appeal that a daily newspaper does.

However, since I wrote that piece, I’ve carried on a number of private conversations with folks inside the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The questions seem to be, “Aaron, what do you think we can do better?”

Interesting question.

2125669268_6aa230b967_oOrlando Sentinel Newsroom. Photo by wcouch

I think the New York Times, as mentioned yesterday, has road mapped a lot of where the newspaper business needs to be in the digital age. All of their content is robustly tagged in a machine-readable way. It’s possible to find all content from Author D between the months of June and October in even-numbered years having to do with the auto industry.

The fine level of meta-data (data describing the stories) has been applied in such a way that the entirety of the Times is opened up to ambitious people who want to use their data and mash it up, re-apply it and, by nature, extend the New York Times readership.

The roadmap is there.

Interestingly, with a New York Times approach to metadata and the variety of Tribune Company properties (not just the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and LA Times, but also the Hartford Courant, WGN, Orlando Sentinel and more), it should be possible for users to create their own newspaper, and the newspaper to suggest content by behavior. Facebook is all over behavioral advertising and might be a willing partner.

If you provide a common sense approach to content discovery, across all Tribune properties, and allow readers to assemble and find content that is not only localized, but also relevant to their interests and concerns, with the understanding that the 21st century American is transient and not likely a loyalist to a metro area or a metro newspaper, then you have the basis for breaking the newspaper out of the early 1950s.

It is not simply good enough to provide a way to have external content (a la “Add an RSS feed”). That does not help the greater company to be coherent in the digital age. You must provide a way for Tribune Company content from all properties to be searched (Talk to me about Lijit – we can do a deal that works), discovered via meta-data analysis (NY Times approach) and user behavior feedback and offerings (a la Facebook).

There, my friends at the Tribune Company, is your road map to building a 21st Century newspaper business.