Phillip Mendonça-Vieira

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The nytimes they are a-changin'

July 18, 2011

Due to an errant cron task that ran twice an hour from September 2010 to July 2011, I accidentally collected about 12,000 screenshots of the front page of the (unfortunately, you can only watch the whole 7 minutes if you stick to 480p).

Working on this video was fascinating because the past year was filled with dramatic events (from the Chilean miners [0:39] to the Arab Spring [3:38] and the Japanse Tsunami [4:54]) that I got to watch unfold time and time again. Watch out for them in the video; I took special care to slow down certain time periods.

Conveniently, this might be important because:

Traditionally, the purpose of a newspaper’s front page was to entice the reader into delving further into the publication. As a consequence, they are roughly equivalent with whatever the editors thought were the most relevant news items of the day.

That said, moments like this one are no longer possible:

Having worked with and developed on a number of content management systems I can tell you that as a rule of thumb no one is storing their frontpage layout data. It’s all gone, and once newspapers shutter their physical distribution operations I get this feeling that we’re no longer going to have a comprehensive archive of how our news-sources of note looked on a daily basis. comes close, but there are too many gaps to my liking.

This, in my humble opinion, is a tragedy because in many ways our frontpages are summaries of our perspectives and our preconceptions. They store what we thought was important, in a way that is easy and quick to parse and extremely valuable for any future generations wishing to study our time period.

Thanks for reading! If you have an idea of something fun to do with the data, holla at me.

Interested in how this was put together? I wrote a howto.

Thought this video was cool? I made another one using the BBC.

# 2011-07-18