Read Write Web has a great breakdown of why the API is important, both for hackers, but also for journalism itself:
Reporting is no longer a scarce commodity. It's hard for these huge news organizations to do it faster, cheaper or even as well as a whole web of new media producers around the world. They may be among the top sources for original content still today, but considering the direction technology is moving in - that's not a safe bet for the future.
One thing that big media still does have a particularly good share of, though, is information processing resources and archival content. The Times' campaign contribution API is a good example of this. The newspaper is far better prepared to organize that raw information, and perhaps offer complimentary content, than any individual blogger or small news publisher.