Highlighted Selections from:

The Journalist as Programmer: A Case Study of The New York Times Interactive News Technology Department


Royal, Cindy. “The Journalist as Programmer: A Case Study of The New York Times Interactive News Technology Department.” Journal of the International Symposium on Online Journalism 2.1 (2012): 5-24. Print.

p.5: Modern news organizations are beginning to use a variety of technologies to assist in telling stories in ways that increasingly combine media, data and user engagement. The New York Times is one of the most progressive of these organizations in developing online, data-driven, interactive, news presentations. An in-depth case study of the practices of The New York Times Interactive News Technology department provides insight into the future of web journalism and suggests some guidelines for other organizations in developing this competency. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.6: Newsroom products are shaped by a variety of social and cultural forces (Berkowitz, 1997). This study employs a framework based on the social meaning of news to assess the role of these areas in changing newsroom culture and deliverables. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.6: The use of computers in journalism was pioneered in the 1960s by Philip Meyer at the Detroit Free Press, now Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer used a mainframe computer to analyze the demographics of blacks in Detroit’s 1967 riots. This began the integration of computers and social science and was a precursor to the area of computer-assisted reporting (CAR). -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.7: From a theoretical perspective, understanding newsroom processes and routines has a long legacy in terms of media scholarship. Schudson provided a helpful framework in which to study news that defined three perspectives on the social meanings of news. 1) The political economy which relates to the way news products are shaped by the economic structure of the organization; 2) the sociological organization, in which roles of individuals, how decision-making works and how parties work together are described; 3) the culturological approach, defining broad cultural symbols that are associated with the profession (Schudson, 1993).-- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.7: Further, Zelizer (1993) identified four frames in which to consider journalism: performance, narrative, ritual and interpretive community. These all have to do with the political, social and cultural environment of journalism and more specifically relate to how actors make sense of the workplace, whether it is through negotiation of roles, identification of routines and patterns, making of meaning and decisions and interaction. Integrating innovation into newsrooms is an ongoing process. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.7: Schmitz Weiss and Domingo (2010) studied the ways that four newsrooms dealt with innovation through two frames: actor-network theory (ANT) and communities of practice (CoP). They found that ANT was useful in mapping the roles and responsibilities within the newsroom in relation to their attitudes about technology, providing a foundation for understanding success or roadblocks to progress. By combining ANT with the conception of newsrooms as communities of practice, they found it helpful in understanding how “journalists learn and gain knowledge from each other during and after innovation processes are implemented in the newsroom” (Schmitz Weiss & Domingo, 2010, p. 1168). These approaches reflect that news products and ultimate change are not the result of one force or set of forces, but a complete system that encompasses the organization, individual actors and the culture that surrounds them. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.8: An important aspect of this study is the constructivist nature of technological innovation. With technology, “there is a social context where they are invented...and a social context where they are adopted, in which users negotiate with the proposed definitions of the technology to adapt them to their needs and to adapt themselves to the requirements of the technique usage” (Domingo, 2008). -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.8: The culture of technology is different than that of journalism. They each carry different ideas about objectivity, transparency, sharing of information and performance. By merging these cultures, what emerges in terms of a hybrid dynamic? How do the actors, their backgrounds and training, their processes and the organizational structure affect the products they deliver? -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.8: The methodology for this project was a week-long observation of members of The New York Times Interactive News Technology (INT) Department. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.11: In 2007, Pilhofer and Matt Ericson, deputy graphics director at The New York Times, made a proposal to create the Interactive News Technologies (INT) department. The goal was to assemble a group of developers/journalists doing projects on a variety of topics, cutting across all desks (Nussbaum, 2009). The roots of the proposal were in computer- assisted reporting, but the vision was to reduce the bureaucracy associated with creating each project and to elevate the status of the coders in working with reporters and editors. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.11: While these titles are seemingly geeky and reflect their technology roles, their actual responsibilities are much broader and encompass a stronger editorial emphasis than the names indicate. And, it should be noted, that in 2009 during the PI’s visit, each of these positions was filled by a male. Later in the year, the department hired it’s first female employee, a highly experienced coder. The gender implications of the technology field as it relates to the future of journalism is a ripe topic for future research. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.21: However, they were unclear how to overcome the dearth of women who possessed the skills or had an interest in programming. This is not a problem solely related to this team at The New York Times, but seems to be an issue in the tech world, not unlike other tech startups. Several indicated that they often work with female multimedia producers or reporters in developing the interactives, so the female perspective is not completely absent.

  • “There’s just not a lot of women out there in these roles, at least that I’ve seen. But for design, there’s a fairly large population of women doing it. If it’s only men designing the user interactions with these projects that we’re spending huge amounts of time on, you get a very narrow opinion.”
  • “The bigger thing is that the world of software development is both male-dominated, but also tends to be dominated by a certain kind of person. There’s a certain kind of person who can do well in the software world that couldn’t do well in other areas.”
  • “I think the problem is that the divide goes back so far that when we meet people, they tend to be guys. We will go to conferences, and there will be few women there. We’ll descend on the few women, start talking about jobs and then overwhelm them.”
  • “We have incredibly specific skills that we are looking for, and so, in many cases, there is really only one person out of the 20 we’ve identified that really fits. Finding a woman within those constraints is difficult.”

-- Highlighted apr 29, 2014

p.23: Obviously, a short-term visit has its limitations in terms of gleaning representative or generalizable data. But observation is an extremely valuable method in gaining a comprehensive understanding of new systems and processes and will become more critical as the field continues to evolve. Studies of this nature can provide a basis for comparison across organizations or can offer background or a baseline upon which to justify quantitative methods. While it is difficult to gain access and to set aside the time and secure resources to fund a more extensive visit, spending longer amounts of time in the newsroom and possibly integrating the researcher into some of the processes is recommended for future research in this area. Other areas that may prove fruitful in terms of future study would include assessing the specific news products that come out of these processes and the perceptions and behaviors of users who engage with them. In addition, broadening the scope of organizations under study to include smaller, start up, web-only groups like the Texas Tribune or international publications like The Guardian will provide strong comparisons to the processes of a large, legacy, American news operation like The New York Times. -- Highlighted apr 29, 2014