New York Times Digitization And Multimedia Journalism In Digital Era

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Abstract

This paper focuses primarily on the evolution of the digitization process as well as the analysis of multimedia packages seen on The New York Times online platform. What viewers might see and experience as a fluid narration of a story or news article, comes with extensive work; molding, configuration, cutting and pasting. The New York Times did not always hold this leading role. On the contrary, the news organization was surpassed by several others including The Washington Post and Vox, as it lacked sufficient adaptation to the digital era. I will therefore, take a peek behind the scenes into The New York Times newsroom, explore and demonstrate what transpired and what changes had to be made in order to flare such mind-blowing results and alterations.

The most progressive stories and significant aspects are highlighted in order to illustrate their powerful dynamic, and what has made The New York Times a leading contender in the news world. This paper also focuses on the how these digital long form stories cater to audience needs as technology advances, by studying surveys and case studies conducted mainly by the Pew Research Center and the Reuters Institute, For the Study of Journalism. Additionally it mostly uses articles and studies from 2016 up until today, as the changes that occur from year to year are immense and the material noted must be as close as possible to current information in order for it to remain relevant. Two multimedia stories are presented and described according to which I think illustrate The New York Times’ successful exploration and demonstration of immersive journalism. Finally, I comment on the most recent technological advancement The New York Times has made in order to bring the audience as close as possible to the story they are experiencing.

Introduction

Over the past five years, multimedia story packages have become an integral part of how we experience online news. My first experience with a digital multimedia story goes back to 2013, when one of The New York Time’s sports reporter, John Branch, created a milestone in the development of digital storytelling. His Pulitzer Prize winning story “Snowfall” illustrates the essence of a multifaceted story package (Branch, 2013). The story follows a group of skiers who were hit by a deadly avalanche, at Tunnel Creek, Washington State. Some members of the group made it out alive, others didn’t. Originally, it was meant to be covered just like any other traditional news article (Campbell, 2014).

Two months into the process of reporting, Branch was faced with some challenges - mismatching information he discovered from his interviews. It was then when he was urged to bend the norms and present this story in a new and multimodal way. From a 1,000 word story, “Snowfall” grew into a beaming 17,000 word project with a team of 16 members (Campbell, 2014). Various audio visual and interactive features were displayed including photo slideshows, interview and sound clips. Graphic illustrations of the mountains with visual representations of the avalanche were used in order to demonstrate how the phenomenon occurred. The chilling phone call clips to the police and interviews with the victims’ loved ones, gives the audience the opportunity to indulge in the story and experience the incident as closely as possible; for if it was merely a 1,000 word essay the victims would only come off as numbers in a natural disaster. The entire project was accompanied by a ten minute documentary created by

Catherine Spangler

What “Snowfall” offered was context and rich storytelling, which would become instilled in the readers’ minds. Even readers uninterested in the topic can become engaged, due to its intricacy and emotive aspect. This inspired me to explore the way The New York Times have developed their digital spectrum and in what ways their multimedia projects represent this. Five years after “Snowfall.” The Times’ multimedia projects have expanded beyond belief, with new, unthinkable forms of interactive storytelling and have created a new dimension for their audience through use of augmented reality in their story process (Roberts, 2018).

Behind the Scenes of The New York Times

The New York Times might appear to be a leading contender in the news world today, however it has had to make an array of changes in order to achieve digital greatness. One of the main components of journalism is still very much the journalist; who in the case of The Times had to undergo changes along with the paper. Story forms, audience and reporting are now being perceived in a completely different manner. The new focus, revolves around elements such as interactivity, live chats, audio, guides etc. (The New York Times...Training, 2017).

In order to instill these changes, a decision had been made regarding a new form of training which supplemented the journalists’ skills with an array of digital techniques and thinking. With that in mind, The Times sought out new staff which would contribute to the training including a Digital Storytelling Editor, Digital Skills Editor and a Digital Tools and Platforms Editor (The New York Times...Training, 2017). Last year, The New York Times published their report “Journalism That Stands Apart; THE REPORT OF THE 2020 GROUP”; a report which was constructed in order to achieve digital success as well as increase online subscribers substantially (2020 Group, 2017). Apart from stating changes such as alterations in newsroom management and giving emphasis on graphics, virtual reality and podcasts, one of the main goals reiterated in the report was the need to double its digital revenue by the year 2020, meaning that it should reach $800 million in comparison to the $400 million back in 2014 (Ember, 2017). Additionally, the report states there should be less article editing and instead increase story coverage by visual experts in order to enhance and expand visual journalism.

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The New York Times “Innovation Report” of 2014, depicted The New York Times as a news organization which despite its brilliance in providing great journalism had many weaknesses when it came to keeping up with the digital era. Instead, their competitors such as The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, were in the lead, as they had already invested in creating digital based newsrooms. In 2013, The Times faced a shrinkage in readership numbers as well as a decline in the mobile application audience. The report’s main focus was to stray away from print journalism, and cultivate a strong digital presence with powerful, digital leaders (“The Innovation Report”, 2014). By January of 2017, just three years after the “Innovation Report”, The New York Times presented a new self, which was ready to adapt to any new technological changes. The 2020 Report, reminds us that although the past couple years had shown substantial innovation, they must still take far strides in order to break free from traditions and tear down all barriers. (2020 Group, 2017). The third quarter of 2016, showed immense growth in digital subscriptions, reaching 1.5 million, compared to the one million in 2015, and the zero subscriptions back in 2011. However, this does not allow for a period of rest, on the contrary The Times have to continuously change rapidly, in order to secure their success (2020 Group, 2017).

Trends in Digital Journalism

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, in its study “Challenges and opportunities for news media and journalism in an increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment” the way media has been developed does not only empower large technology companies but also assists users in become active participants in the news (Nielsen, Cornia, Kalogeropoulos, 2016). They are given more opportunities to engage with the material, through sharing and commenting. Amongst 26 different countries, from different continents including the U.S.A and Greece, over half of online news users have embraced and taken advantage of these new forms of engagement, according to the 2016 Reuters Institute Digital News Report. The study also describes how changes in technology and economic prosperity have affected news media organizations. The two main points include high investments in digital advancements and opportunities as well as cost-cutting. Digital business therefore is predicted to become more and more prominent. As a result, print and broadcast organizations have invested substantial amounts in digital media in order to attract and maintain a vast online audience. In relation to the Reuters Institute study, the 26 countries being evaluated revealed that the majority of internet users visit online news sources which have already been established before migrating online. This would include news media organizations such as The New York Times, in comparison to internet born publications such as Buzzfeed and the Huffington post. “The developing digital media environment is in important ways dominated by a few large players who have developed very successful and popular products and services used frequently by large numbers of people. They in turn attract a large share of attention and advertising.” (Nielsen, Cornia, Kalogeropoulos, 2016, p. 20).

The Stories: Long-Form Multimedia Projects

One of the only ways an audience can notice such a transformation is by experiencing the changes through new projects and stories. The New York Times have recently added a “multimedia” tab on their online platform, which includes a plethora of visual and interactive digital stories. And since as noted audience still favors digesting news by watching it, these projects serve just that purpose, despite their “print/text” reputation. According to the aforementioned 2016 Reuters study, one of the conclusions stated that internet users are offered a wider and more extensive range of information alongside sophisticated devices with new and compelling ways of audience participation (Nielsen, Cornia, Kalogeropoulos, 2016). This led to an increase of news engagement through the internet. And although a large number of readers embrace these opportunities, there is still a substantial number of people who are more keen in remaining in the more casual and passive way of consuming news.

The New York Times Multimedia Stories manage to do both, by brilliantly combine these two forms of online news consumption and for the most part cater to both needs; visual stimulation and interactivity as well as passive, linear storytelling. One of the most recent and progressive New York Times multimedia projects include “The Fine Line” (2016) ; a project dedicated to the Olympic games in Rio, featuring some of the top gold winning Olympic athletes in an in-depth exploration of their athletic nature (“The Fine Line”, 2016). The four athletes featured include, Simone Biles, American gymnast, Ryan Lochte, American swimmer, Christian Taylor, American triple-jump athlete and Derek Drouin, Canadian high jump athlete.

Simone Biles’ profile in “The Fine Line” focuses primarily on her signature move, otherwise known as “the Biles”, which entails “a double layout with a half-twist and a blind landing” (“The Fine Line”, 2016). Now, if you’re not a gymnast or even close to stepping foot on a court or a gym, you probably have no idea what any of that means. Precisely. This interactive, visual journey through Simone Biles’ athletic profile, describes and visually explains to you exactly what this move entails. Initially, you see her signature move play on a five-second video loop. However appealing and impressive it may appear, it still means nothing to the everyday person. This project has the intention of fully demonstrating why Biles is such an extraordinary athlete, as well as exhibiting the intricacy and successfulness of her execution. As you click the down facing arrow to take you to the next “slide”, Biles is presented again, in a full screen video, performing her move in a slight slow motion. Additionally, throughout her execution, illustrative lines appear and outline the shape of her movements. The whole scene then goes back in reverse, and pauses to make a note of Biles’ peak during the pass where she clears close to twice her height. And if that weren’t enough, the viewer is then introduced to a cartoon-like illustrative section where each move is drawn out, explained and visually presented. However, throughout the whole profile, there are short quotes from Biles’ loved ones as well as childhood videos. This makes the viewer feel like they are obtaining a holistic profile of the athlete at hand.

The entire project “The Fine Line” does essentially the same thing for each athlete. Lochte has discovered a new way of taking on the 200 meter freestyle, and trimming off close to a whole second. His technique entails pushing off the wall, but instead of reverting to your front, he stays on his back. This new technique is thoroughly analyzed, commented on and visually demonstrated just as Biles’ was. The same goes for the remaining two athletes (“The Fine Line”, 2016). Nevertheless, audience needs differ, and for a majority of viewers/readers, this might just be too visual and active. For passive news consumption enthusiasts, The New York Times still create text based multimedia projects. Branch’s “Snowfall” for instance, consists of 17,000 words and, if the surrounding interviews, photos and maps come off as too distracting, readers can also consult an isolated text version. Viewers who have no interest in reading, but simply watch, can go through the whole story without reading a word, by simply watching the linked ten minute documentary.

An example of a News Multimedia Story, is the article “The Are Slaughtering Us like Animals” (Berehulak, 2016). Photojournalist, Daniel Berehulak, visited the Philippines in order to explore the outcomes of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. There were 57 homicides in just over 35 days (Berehulak, 2016). The article uses a map to indicate the locations of the homicides. The most prominent part of the story were the astounding photographs which were accompanied by links to their locations. Additionally, this project is a lot more text based than “The Fine Line.” However, it successfully, manages to incorporate the multimedia aspect with a sense of traditional reporting. In regards to the multimedia expansion in the New York Times newsroom, the 2020 Report boldly claims “We have defined multimedia storytelling for the news industry and established ourselves as the clear leader.” (2020 Group, 2017, par. 24).

The Future of The New York Times: The Future of Journalism

The New York Times have a lot more stored for their audience. Just a few days ago, they launched their augmented reality feature through their mobile app. The first story to use this technology is by the aforementioned Sports Reporter, John Branch (Roberts, 2018). The article “Four of the Best of Olympians as You’ve Never Seen Them Before” (Branch, 2018), works as a preview of the Winter Olympics in Korea. This project is similar to that of “The Fine Line”, however it takes it one step further and brings the story straight into your living room. By using your mobile device’s camera, you can look at your surroundings as they are in addition to the Olympic athletes which have “invaded” your space. This creates a bridge between the digital and physical world, and viewers are asked to treat the three-dimensional representations through their screens as actual objects, in order to achieve and experience the best effect. As a participant who experimented with the new augmented reality feature, I can definitely comment that it provides a completely new and surreal yet realistic experience.

Overall, the future looks promising for The New York Times. Up until today, their final number of digital subscribers has reached over 2.5 million; an astounding one million increase since 2016 (Chatterjee, 2018). It has also defeated its competitors, leaving The Washington Post behind with less than half of the digital subscribers The Times are accepting (Stelter, 2017). ““The New York Times, for its digital subscriptions, is night and day ahead of its peers in the publishing industry,” said Craig Huber, analyst at Huber Research Partners.” (Chatterjee, 2018, p). Finally, the year 2017 presented a clear image of how The New York Times’ changes and digital strategies worked in their benefit by surpassing a remarkable subscription revenue of 1 billion dollars (Ember, 2018).

Conclusion

In all, this study illustrates The New York Times journey, as it plummets in the initial phase of news digitization, allowing its competitors to take the lead. However, within a few years, The Times made far strides in strategic, digital planning as well as substantial investments in order to overcome its detrimental state. Unfortunately, The Washington Post’s annual data reports, seem to be unavailable in order to provide a clear comparison between the two organizations. Nevertheless, credible sources cited throughout this paper, provided the analogous information in order to claim that The New York Times, have surpassed, not only The Washington Post (in digital subscriptions), but all U.S based news sources. This was a result of several implemented newsroom changes, staff alterations and technological advancements which are noted throughout some of the latest multimedia stories. The stories presented throughout this study, reveal the trends and techniques The Times are promoting. Based on audience needs, the style of coverage supports the main viewer/reader’s expectations. Finally, the past week, has been significant for the specific news organization and the entire news world, as the augmented reality feature was launched adding a new dimension to journalistic storytelling.

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