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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

NYT wedding announcements marry the semantic web

The weddings and celebrations section of The New York Times can sometimes read like a Mad Lib: insert Ivy League degree here, mother’s medical specialty there. Now, couples submitting their nuptials to the Times can do so with an online form that will truly automate the process. And while input fields and dialog boxes may kill some of the romance, the new system actually has intriguing potential for improving rote journalistic tasks.

In a memo to staffers today, Jonathan Landman (deputy managing editor for digital) and Denise Warren (general manager of the website) explained:

It’s an online form, part of a system-wide data universe project meant to turn random facts rendered in hard-to-manage text into well-organized data. Anybody who is registered on nytimes.com can use it. Type in the information and it’ll spit out a wedding announcement. Because the data entered on the form is structured for computers, organizing, fact-checking and managing photos becomes much more efficient.

I’ll follow-up to see if there’s more to say about the project, but it seems in line with other semantic-web efforts across the industry that seek to automate reporting and create structure out of unwieldy data. Thomson Reuters, for instance, relies on software to extract key figures from SEC filings for nearly instantaneous reports on, say, a company’s quarterly earnings.

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that the Times’ new form will make it easier for the paper to favor well-bred and highly accomplished couples on its oft-discussed and occasionally maligned weddings pages. (Clark Hoyt, the public editor, recently reported that “almost a quarter” of newlyweds in the Times are the children of educators.) Others will lament the demystifying sample announcement that’s included with the form:

(first celebrator’s name here) and (second celebrator’s name here) are to be (married/committed) (date here) by the (officiant’s name here) at the (name of venue here) in (city and state name here).

(first celebrator), 33, is a (job title/I.D. here) in (location here) for (company/organization name here). (he/she) graduated from (college name here) and received a master’s degree in (degree name/subject/university here).

For a less cookie-cutter feel, there’s always the Vows column.

                                   
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