New York Times researcher talks about changing news narrative


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Photo by Bryan Angeles |

Nick Bilton, a researcher at the New York Times Research and Development Labs


Web users are inundated with about 162,000 links on the Internet every day, and readers are trying to find new ways to aggregate all the information they are bombarded with, said researcher at The New York Times Research and Development Labs Nick Bilton.

He presented "The Narrative is Changing: Sensors, Social Editors and the New Storytelling," last night at the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies. The evening was a preview of a lecture he will be giving next month at the O'Reilly ETech Emerging Technology Conference.

Bilton, who is also a user-interface specialist and hardware hacker, introduced new technology he helped develop at The New York Times Research and Development Labs, such as smart content and a prototype called CustomTimes.

He said with smart content, when a person reads an article online and then accesses The New York Times Web site on their phone, the phone will recognize which stories have already been read so they do not appear again.

Bilton said CustomTimes is an interactive newspaper box where readers can swipe an I.D. card, select which sections of the paper they would like to read and receive a printout of their customized news.

"It's a more granular, aggregate version of your content," Bilton said.

He said the CustomTimes would also include barcodes, and a user could take a picture of the barcodes with their phone, enabling them to view a URL associated with the article and view videos and other multimedia.

Mason Gross School of the Arts senior Jonathan Sykes said he thought the technology Bilton discussed was a little overwhelming and will not affect him much.

"Being a graphic design major, it's important for us to know about this now. Obviously we'll be working in this field and we'll be producing the images they are storytelling, Sykes said. "But I didn't entirely see how things would change for us."

But School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Ariba Alvi said the new devices Bilton presented will relate to her future career as she hopes to enter the magazine industry. She said she was also captivated by his lecture.

"It was very straightforward; there was no fluff," Alvi said. "It was just what he wanted to say, he got across it clearly in a very interesting manner."

Director of Public Communications for SCILS Ashanti Alvarez said Bilton's talk addressed issues important to journalism and media studies students who will be transitioning into the field in terms of what kind of technology they will need to be familiar with.

Bilton said some people worry the increased use of Internet acronyms such as "LOL" and "BRB," is negatively affecting language skills, but he said acronyms have been around for centuries.

"One of the most well-known is O.K., which came from Oll-Korrect, which people used to say back in the 1800s," Bilton said.

He said today people are simply creating a hybrid form of communication.

"Our language skills are not being deteriorated, we're just creating new ways to communicate with these new technologies that come out," Bilton said. "But what is happening is that the narrative is changing."


Heather Brookhart

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