A New Era of Corruption?

The New Republic (3/4/09)  has two new articles focusing on the decline of newspapers and the impact on democracy/politics:

Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption) by
Why American politics and society are about to be changed for the worse.


CORRESPONDENCE: A New Era of Corruption? by
The newspaper’s decline does not portend anything resembling the end of democracy. Here’s why.

New York Times — Article Skimmer

This from ReadWriteWeb:

“The New York Times just released an interesting new online product that tries to recreate the experience of spreading out the newspaper on Sunday morning. The new ‘article skimmer‘ gets back to the basics with a streamlined interface that lets you quickly scan the top headlines in every section of the Times. Basically, this is an experimental new interface for reading the Times online, though the links to the actual articles still take you to the standard NYT pages.”

Administering CPR to the Gray Lady


We spend a full day talking about newspapers and their role in legal research in our class.  And throughout the class we make frequent reference to newspapers (such as, for example, searching for news coverage when legislation passes hurdles in Congress).  Of course no one in our class has actually ever purchased a newspaper (except, maybe, on November 5, 2008 ) and we read constant stories about the industry’s demise.  A really interesting (to me, anyway) article in New York magazine discusses various attempts to resuscitate the venerable “paper of record,” the New York Times, known to some as the “Gray Lady” with new applications of technology, features and deep content.

The article mentions various and intriguing uses of new technology (the “Word Train,” “Lifestream” strip and several others), but also touches upon one of the themes of our class:  authority.

The article also mentions the inclusion of primary source documents as “data dumps” along with the “reporter’s cache” of materials.  This has always been a dream of mine — to be able to read a newspaper story about a complaint filed, bill introduced, judicial opinion issued, settlement agreement signed, regulation promulgated and then find a link from the story to the actual document discussed — and not just for “hot documents” but for every legal document noted (I can dream, right?).

Here are a few paragraphs dealing with these ideas:

Perhaps most interesting, there were data dumps of documents. As Guantanamo records emerged, the Times‘ website posted the entire set of legal documentation, affixed to a search engine. Readers could click on William Glaberson’s reportage, but they could also dive into original materials, searching for a particular word or prisoner amid transcripts of legal hearings.

It is of course impossible to see into the future . . .   But Pilhofer has an application in at the Knight Foundation, a proposal for which he’s teamed up with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, seeking funding for software called Document Cloud. Like many innovations, it’s hard to describe until it exists, but from Pilhofer’s account, it would let news organizations display documents on the web–rich transcripts, polling, and other research tools–rendering them easily searchable, commentable, sharable. It could become a journalistic form in itself: the reporter’s cache, embedded in commentary from every corner.

“One of the New York Times” roles in this new world is authority–and that’s probably the rarest commodity on the web,” explains Pilhofer . . . . “That’s why in some respects we’re gung-ho and in other respects very conservative. Everything we do has to be to New York Times standards. Everything. And people are crazy about that. And that’s a good thing.”

(Emphasis added)



“Goosing the Gray Lady: What are these renegade cybergeeks doing at the New York Times? Maybe saving it,” by Emily Nummbaum.  New York, January 19 – 26, 2009, p. 28

Using distorted words to build digital libraries

REALLY fascinating story in today’s Wall Street Journal about inventor Luis von Ahn and the use of his Captcha — “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” to help get old books and newspapers online faster and cheaper.


Web-Security Inventor Charts a Squigglier Course

Digitizing Books
Is Tied to Revamp
Of Captcha System

August 13, 2008; Page B5


The primary inventor of a Web security technique is putting the system to work in another security scheme dubbed ReCaptcha.  This time he wants users to assist with what he thinks is an important public service: heling get old books and newspapers online as part of digitized libraries.

From the story:

When the ReCaptcha project is fully up and running, this month or in early September, Mr. von Ahn expects it to process about 160 books a day being scanned by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco nonprofit. The Internet Archive has paid employees scanning 1,000 books a day at 70 public and university libraries, mostly in the U.S., from the Library of Congress to the Allen County Public Library, in Fort Wayne, Ind.

. . .

Most of the books can be digitized using typical optical character recognition software. Those that prove troublesome are to be handled by ReCaptcha.

“It’s a really mind-blowing application,” says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle.

Times of London Archive

For a limited time, the Times of London will provide free access to its archive online. Currently scanned pages from 1785 through 1985 are available.  This includes the law reports, with full-text or excerpts of cases, articles, advertisements and announcements.  Now is the time to search for those 18th and 19th Century English cases. Registration is required.

The Times Archive http://archive.timesonline.co.uk/tol/archive/

All Things Digital Conference

Today’s Wall Street Journal is worth buying (it’s only $ 1.50), especially for Section R, The Journal Report: Highlights From the D: All Things Digital Conference

The supplement includes an interview with Jeffrey Bezos on why people will read e-books.

. . .

But you also can’t ever out-book the book. You need to look for a series of things that you can do with an electronic device like Kindle that you could never do with a physical book.

Some of them can be pretty simple, like dictionary lookup. I find I don’t know what lots of words mean, and I used to guess because — am I really going to get up off of the sofa and go find a dictionary?

Changing the font size, a very simple thing that’s much appreciated.

And then some whoppers. The big whopper is wireless delivery of books in less than 60 seconds. You don’t have the cognitive overhead of thinking about your monthly wireless bill. You don’t have to know who the wireless carrier is. We’re hiding all of that complexity.

. . .

The supplement also has an article by Lee Gomes on reading books via smart phone, Rupert Murdoch on the future of newspapers, Susan Decker and Jerry Yang on “what is Yahoo, anyway,” and a lot more.