Sunday, December 20, 2009

The New York Times Continues to Embrace New Tools

Yesterday I was reading a fascinating article about Nancy Meyers, one of the very few successful female Hollywood directors, on the New York Times Magazine website. I came across a word that I didn't know and highlighted it, with the intention of pasting into a search engine, when a little speech bubble with a question mark in it popped up, as if the word itself was beckoning me to ask it about itself. I had never seen this before, and was intrigued. I clicked the bubble and a reference page opened up in a new window!

After playing around with it a bit, I've found that your results will vary. Sometimes you'll get entries from multiple dictionaries and a thesaurus, sometimes just one basic dictionary definition. Results for proper names are mixed: selecting the Beatles yields entries from Columbia Encyclopedia, the Fine Arts Dictionary, and WordNet, but nothing comes up for film score composerHans Zimmer or the recent film "The Dark Knight." Nothing comes up for "Skyping" and "cougar" has only one definition (which does not apply to the word's use in the article).

It's an imperfect tool, but I imagine it will improve with time. Innovations like this are what make the New York Times website one of the best news sources. The New York Times is one of the few big papers that has truly embraced the move to digital and is using new technology to make news more accessible. Rather than dumbing down the writing to reach a broader audience, the paper (news entity? news organization?) continues to produce thought-provoking, original stories, and has simply made it easier for readers to look up the words they don't know!

The New York Times, like all legacy media, has faced and will continue to face many challenges as technology and the demands of consumers change, but has demonstrated that it is pragmatic and adaptable, and I believe that it will continue to be one of the most respected and widely-read national news sources.

The New York Times' website is more appealing than the print paper, not just because it is free and easy to access, but because it encourages and rewards its readers' curiosity in ways a print edition never could. If anything, this is evidence that the future of journalism is not the bleak, watered-down drivel that many fear it will be. If those who truly care about good journalism work towards using new tools to make news better, rather than seeing them as a threat, the journalism of the future could be far better than any we have known.

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