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News organizations begin giving away their reporting

Embracing online can be seen as, depending on one’s viewpoint, either a desperate last gasp of a dying business model or bold and visionary move.

Both views can be applied, for example, to Microsoft’s preview of its Web-based Office Live product. Likewise, the Christian Science Monitor’s plan to abandon a printed newspaper and focus its news operations online is either too late or leading edge.

The same can be said when company get the “open source” religion.

Netscape did it when its browser was dying, and the move, literally, resulted in a phoenix rising from the flames.

Sun is doing it with Java with less dramatic effect.

After consuming so many Web 2.0 companies, the bulk of Yahoo’s interesting efforts have been to produce a public means to access many of the tools and data that makes Yahoo Yahoo.

More radical, though, are The New York Times’ efforts to free the information contained within its storied archives. Within the past two weeks, the Gray Lady has given Web access to its campaign finance information and its movie reviews. Bloggers can now associate related New York Times articles with each of their posts. Designers are invited to comment on the news by creating new visualizations from the Times’ archive.

Late last week, another leading international newspaper, The Guardian (and its sibling, The Observer), has taken the Times’ move to its logical conclusion and have made the full-text of (and the meta data about) nearly every article it publishes available through RSS.

News long ago became a commodity, and to compete, news organizations must focus on how best to present the gathered facts. This is, in essence, what differentiates my employer, msnbc.com, from nytimes.com from huffingtonpost.com from an anonymous blogger.

The last time and economic bubble burst, the Web went on to create tools, like Blogger and MovableType, enabling anyone to easily post a story online. Just under ten years later, and in the shadows of another economic collapse, the Web is developing the tools for anyone to crunch data and present their findings in visually compelling ways.

The traditional news industry barely made it through the last wave of change. This time, though, some finally seem to be learning those lessons and discovering how to make themselves an indispensable resource.