Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Holding algorithms (and the people behind them) accountable is still tricky, but doable
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Nov. 4, 2013, 4:58 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 4, 2013

Khoi Vinh, former design director of, has a skeptical post up today on The Guardian’s scrolly Snowden explainer and the broader post-Snow Fall rise of blowout article display.

I’m pretty ambivalent about this new strain of multimedia journalism. As well executed as these early examples are, both this and “Snowfall” clearly cross the line from utilitarian storytelling to superfluous bells and whistles. Also, in my own personal, decidedly unscientific polling, of all the people I’ve met who marvel at “Snowfall,” no one has ever told me that they actually read it. (That’s actually not true; someone told me they did read it, but then again that person has three newspapers delivered to her doorstep every morning, so I would say she’s an outlier.) I suspect the same thing will be true of “NSA Files Decoded.” These kinds of things, I think, are meant to be marveled at more than they are meant to be read.

On the other hand, there is the oft cited if not entirely convincing argument that these things push the medium forward, and help forge new modes of delivering and consuming journalistic content in a world in which there are no longer practical dividing lines between text, sound, video and behavior.

No doubt there is probably some merit to that argument except for the fact that, again, it doesn’t seem to me, anyway, that people are reading these things. Also, there’s the fact that both “NSA Files Decoded” and “Snowfall” so clearly take the form of what I like to call “The Editor’s Prerogative.” What is The Editor’s Prerogative? It’s when you take a piece of journalism and make it huge in scale and elaborate in delivery so that it is more in line with how important an editor thinks the story is than how new audiences actually want to consume it.

Josh Kalven, Cody Brown, and David Sleight, among other names you might recognize, in the comments.

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