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

Noah Feehan, a “Maker” at The New York Times R&D Lab, wanted to create a physical artifact that marked all the changes in Times headlines, in real time. So he built Diff,

nyt-rnd-diffa small device that monitors the internal events stream of The New York Times and prints out a summary each time an active headline is changed. As it runs, it generates a long stream of changes printed on thermal paper: text that was removed from a headline is rendered as inverted, while additions to a headline are underlined…

Of course, we were aware of and inspired by the excellent NewsDiffs project, which provides a more complete and persistent summary of changes to entire articles across several different websites. Our objective in making Diff was as much rooted in the notion of “fixing” an evanescent resource in a place and time (as NewsDiffs does) as it was a reaction to the emerging shape of “internet things” whose purpose is to transpose or transform the properties of network space onto physical space, and vice versa.

Diff found that headlines get changed roughly every five to seven minutes, unless big news was breaking.

Okay, here’s a Nieman Lab hook:

We’ve only just begun exploring the full potential of the data source for this project, which is exciting in its own right: it’s basically a near-real-time, highly-detailed stream of every event that our publishing framework sees, from the first words typed into our CMS, to an article’s publishing in its own section, to its promotion to the front page.

I unplugged Diff after a week or so of printing, and have saved the 300-odd feet of generated text for some future application. Expect to see more stream-processing tools, internet-things and interaction experiments here soon!

Feehan’s built a lot of nifty things in his young career, but for me it’ll be hard for him to top Steak Filter, in which he made a video of a steak cooking by sending the video signal through the steak as it cooked. (More cooked = less moisture = degraded signal. Now that’s exploring meatspace.)

(This is what eventually happens to the signal.)

— Joshua Benton
What to read next
Alberto Cairo    July 9, 2014
The data visualization expert argues that FiveThirtyEight and Vox have overpromised and underdelivered — and that they need to treat their data with more scientific rigor.