And now let’s think about the big hole in our modern information society: Source documents. Google does a lot of things, but it doesn’t index the interviews or hardcopy legal documents or scribbled notepads that are the source of your online knowledge.
The New York Times and ProPublica plan to “launch an online repository of primary-source documents,” according to the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. A NYT grant application, submitted to the Knight News Challenge, notes, documents are the foundation of investigative journalism, but today’s newsroom is a throwaway culture. Too often, reporters gather reams of information, do their stories, then chuck rich source documents into a dusty corner, never again to see the light of day.
The DocumentCloud would let any news group upload source materials for public review, and potentially be expanded to include non-official news sources, say, you there, writing your blog. As the public struggles to validate the knowledge they find online, indexing actual source documents seems like a fine idea.
For a look at the power of source documents, check out the transcript of the NYT interview with Senate candidate Caroline Kennedy. It’s more illuminating than any possible reporter’s revisions.
Photo: S.C. Asher