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Times Haiku Proves News Can Be Poetry

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? The New York Times sure does, and the venerable publication is making the most of it with their newest blog, Times Haiku. The blog itself is actually a bot, combing through all of the Times‘s articles from the day and putting them together in neat little haiku packages — naturally displaying in the standard five-seven-five syllable set the poem requires.

“We started with a basic rhyming lexicon, but over time we’ve added syllable counts for words like “Rihanna” or “terroir” to keep pace with the broad vocabulary of The Times,” writes Senior Software Architect and Times hacker Jacob Harris.

Scrolling through the blog, which is powered by Tumblr, one can easily snicker at the randomness of it all — evoking the odd pleasure of other bots like the popular @horse_ebooks, which combs through free ebooks online and takes out snippets of the words. But Harris, who actually reverse-engineered @horse_ebooks to understand the nature of bots, has a little bit more sophistication up his sleeve in the form of careful curation by the Times‘ own journalists, who comb through the bot’s results to find the most interesting poems.

In all the randomness, the blog reads a bit like the moment when a room full of monkeys finally complete Hamlet. Completely without context (save for a reference to the article it comes from and the date it was published), the poems take on their own meanings — some are stark, some uplifting, still some are funny. But what it really reveals is that journalists are poets — whether or not they know it.

A love for language and linguistics is needed to be a successful journalist, whether on the page or on a website, and it’s that ineffable quality of writing that readers need to make a piece “sing.” Seeing these little snippets of phrases bear new life as standalone works, it’s clear that the art of writing is still alive and well.

What do you think of the Times Haiku? Is it a shallow diversion or a more meaningful examination of journalistic writing? Let us know in the comments.

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