APIs helping journalism “scale up”

A couple of days ago, I quoted AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on developing tools to help journalists “scale up” what they do. ?In a post on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, Megan Garber has a highlighted a good practical example of what I meant .

One thing that computers and other technology can help journalists to work more efficiently is to cut down or eliminate frequent, repetitive tasks. Derek Willis at the New York Times talks about APIs (as Derek describes APIs as “just a Web application delivering data). Derek says:

The flexibility and convenience that the APIs  provide make it easier to cut down on repetitive manual work and bring new ideas to fruition. Other news organizations can do the same.

Derek also points how savvy use of data is not just good for data visualisations and infographics, but it is also an excellent resource for New York Times’ journalists.

So if you have a big local election coming up, having an API for candidate summary data makes it easier to do a quick-and-dirty internal site for reporters and editors to browse, but also gives graphics folks a way to pull in the latest data without having to ask for a spreadsheet.

And as he said, the biggest consumer of New York Times APIs is the New York Times itself.

Projects such as building an API can be quite large (although new companies and also organisations like the Sunlight Foundation in the US and MySociety in the UK have great public service APIs and data projects), but with the benefits to both audiences, designers, developers and journalists, it makes it easier to justify the time and effort.