Times Insider explains who we are and what we do and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together. At the top of a New York Times article online that gives explanations to frequently asked questions about Covid-19 vaccines, readers can type in any query that comes to mind. “Am I eligible?” “Can I take Tylenol before I get vaccinated?” “How will we know when things are getting better?” A search tool returns the most relevant answer. It’s a little like Google, except all of the results have been reported by Times journalists.
The tool uses machine learning to most accurately infer what readers are asking, is a project of The Times’s research and development group. A constantly evolving department at The Times that has existed in its current form since 2016, the group continually looks for technology to elevate journalism.
In June, the R&D team updated its website to make it easier to share its experimental projects and its newsroom collaborations with fellow technologists, journalists, and academics. While “research and development” might evoke images of locked offices full of analysts and inventors secretly building futuristic prototypes, the reality is a bit different. Members of the 35-person team of technologists, designers, producers, and strategists work closely with the newsroom involving technologies already in use for other mediums, such as gaming, or are expected to be soon.