At first glance, Beta620 sounds especially nefarious—perhaps, the name of a chemical substance that will turn us all into Republicans, or a Bond movie plot to destroy United Nations HQ. But in truth, it’s the code name for The New York Times’ experimental projects group. That such a group even exists is a sign that the direction and scope of the journalism industry is shifting, that it’s no longer enough to simply report on the issues of the day, but present and interpret them in a meaningful way. Of course, it probably helps that the projects created by the group are actually quite cool too.
The latest, according to a Nieman Lab post on the subject:
“Deep Dive uses the Times’ massive cache of metadata from stories to go, as the name suggests, deeper into a news event by pulling together related articles. So instead of performing a search yourself within the Times and weeding out off-topic results, Deep Dive would provides readers a collection of stories relating to a topic, based on whatever person, place, event or topic of their choosing.”
The goal is to make it easier for readers to understand the context of a given story or view its development over time. A reader starts with a root article, and related stories and content are displayed in sidebar to the left. In some ways, the current iteration feels reminiscent of an RSS reader, except the content is algorithmically picked and ordered by Deep Dive instead. The idea is that “individual articles are really pieces of a larger story, told in pieces over time and across bylines and datelines.” If you’re interested, you can try an early beta version of Deep Dive on the Times‘ experimental projects site now (although it is currently only possible to explore the demo’s root article).
Deep Dive is just the latest in a trend among news organizations to make their reportage more accessible to readers. The Times, for example, is using Deep Dive to leverage its sizable archive of back issue content to provide more complete reportage on an issue. ProPublica, meanwhile, made the novel decision to include an “Explore Sources” mode on some of its stories, which annotates the article with interviews, quotes and source material in an effort to demonstrate how large features are constructed. If anything, such efforts are a good step forward at evolving the presentation and consumption of news beyond the traditional block of text and links.