API- First Journalism

The relationship between journalism and data has been studied extensively, but its natural extension- API-driven structures and the future of Journalism has hardly been glanced at.  At Meradesh, our interest is not limited to data technology and its distribution. We are also intrigued by data-led technology and its ability to shape society and governance.   

Application Programming Interface (API) are, primarily, clearly defined computing interfaces programmed to enable software programs to more readily ‘talk’ to each other. As consumers, we are served by APIs at almost every juncture of our digital experience. When we shift from a shopping cart to a payment gateway, we experience the benefits of APIs, every time you google for the cheapest tickets to your destination- the list that populates your screen is aided by APIs. Although, APIs are rapidly gaining acceptance within the content distribution and ecommerce ecosystems on. 

Our conviction is that the future of journalism is closely entwined with the progression of APIs and the adoption of API-led- data architectures. 

As the year 2021 comes to a close, we have a few observations on how APIs are and will continue to empower journalists and journalism.  

1) Emergence of Open APIs- The early 2010s’ saw media industry leaders- Twitter, Facebook, The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, NPR, YouTube, and more setting precedence by providing open APIs. Lessons learned here has since been widely implemented by other sectors, namely financial services, healthcare, technology utilities, logistics, travel and government. A range of API ventures taken up by these sectors has unlocked opportunities for innovation and scale for journalists, emerging media houses, and will continue to do so at an accelerating rate.  

2) Accelerating R&D- Open APIs are the modern era agent provocateurs, they are perfectly capable of interacting with enthusiastic external developers who can break the mold and develop products and concepts at a surprising rate. Case in point- an external developer used NPR’s API to launch the first iPhone application for NPR content. The free app, called NPR Addict, quickly became popular, with hundreds of thousands of downloads. This provoked the internal team to develop a more superior product to maintain its competitiveness. The rapid inflow and outflow of ideas improved both cost efficiency and development efficiency. In the end, NPR’s product development process improved and the audience benefited from this competition. 

3) Community of Innovation– Almost every journalistic venture strongly invested in an API first development methodology is posed to build a Postman like ecosystem. The app development platform is home to 17 million developers who use the platform to build and use APIs. With external collaborators using their content through Open APIs, news organizations can identify and rapidly evolve to meet the needs of end-users. The Guardian was able to build a network of 3000 developers within 3 years of its Open Platform’s launch. The developer community thus serves as an innovation engine, facilitating knowledge flow, building partnerships and creating opportunities for business.  

4) Novel Revenue Streams– Besides conventional revenue streams in the form of advertising and licensing fees, news organizations can drive additional traffic to their website through the content available via Open APIs, as The New York Times does as part of its Open API business strategy. The opportunities do not stop here.  Currently, it is feasible to monetize content (content-as-service), algorithms, computation services and their combinations. News organizations built on API led architecture have the opportunity to provide content under innovative monetization models, we are looking at the potential of pricing metrics such as computationtime spent on analysis-ready corpora (structured text) and volume of bytes streamed, etc. Revenue models dependent on syncing news and journalistic ecosystems with industrial ecosystems are very realistic and up for grabs.  

5) Rise of New Newsroom Products- APIs enable journalists to deal with data volume and data complexity in ways that were considered impossible.  The confluence of news content services dedicated to finance, education, economy, government and business intelligence, with heterogeneous services like maps, weather, GeoAnalytics, advertisements, is a formidable business opportunity The resulting unique user experience is both possible and commercially valuable. 

6) Innovative Workflow– API-first data systems enable new ways of managing content production and journalism. We are looking at complex internal workflow tools that allow for the mixture of manual work, with automated processes as well as crowd sourcing.  

Proving competitive in a data surplus world will require the adoption of API led practices that are interestingly cost-effective and scalable. News organizations and especially journalists invested in this revolution will lead the wave of standardization, adoption, setting of best standards and open collaboration. The revolution will also turn the traditional newsroom upside down, with developer-journalists sitting with editors to define both the story, work process, infrastructure and the user experience to unlock the full value of news and information content.