2015 Feature, Large Newsroom finalist

Chasing Bayla


About the Project

From the earliest drafts, Chasing Bayla read like a fairy tale. It was a story about the largeness of the ocean, of the wild, and of the Northern right whale. But it was also a personal story of one man’s chance to save one female whale. Her name was Bayla.

For Boston Globe readers, Bayla’s story is a local one. Our community includes both Woods Hole Research Center, where some of the world’s top scientists study marine life, and a historic and vibrant economy of lobster- and fishermen whose damaging traps, ropes, and nets are the necessary tools of their livelihood.

Chasing Bayla was a chance to bridge these communities with an intimate look at what is at stake for all. Our challenge was to create an experience that evoked the largeness of the story, but pulled a reader close, too. To design journalism that used a multi-faceted palette, but was clean, simple, and story-driven.

The result was an innovative long-read template with streams for both a clean reading experience and a clean multi-media experience, each side telling the full arc of the story, yet intricately tied together in narrative and purpose.

Whether readers sought a beautifully designed clean text read, a sweeping image, video and sound narrative, or an interactive combination of the two, our presentation provided a pathway through the story.

With custom analytics we tracked how users chose to experience Chasing Bayla, watching how they used the twined story streams. Users strongly tended to prefer one stream over another– that is, most readers spent the majority of their time with either the text stream or the visual stream. Time on page was over seven minutes. These lessons– and others– will inform how we publish more long-form journalism in the future.

Response to the story was tremendous. Comments included:

“Thank you, Boston Globe, for all the elements of this piece…the writing, photos, video, audio, graphics, and subtle animation. All were terrific and all combined to make a wonderful multi-media piece. Long live long-form journalism!”

“This was a stunning and dramatic piece. I am saddened by the inevitability of the outcome. Eating lobster isn’t worth the extinction of this intelligent species. There must be changes made …”

“I DREAMED abt @SarahSchweitzer’s incred story re: trying 2 save rt #whales frm fishing lines. In @BostonGlobe 2DAY”

“Got emotionally invested and engrossed by this great story from Sunday’s @BostonGlobe: Chasing Bayla”

As the community response to Chasing Bayla grew, we listened. After publishing the story the Boston Globe hosted a Twitter chat with Dr. Moore, answering reader questions about the attempt to rescue Bayla and what the general public can do to safeguard the Northern right whale.

Early in the process, story editor Steve Wilmsen cautioned the team that Bayla’s story was special. That a narrative as evocative, as universal, as sweeping as Bayla’s didn’t come around very often. This was our starting point, but also our challenge.

Chasing Bayla, we believe, lives up to the story’s promise and then some, not because we believe it is innovative, but because the innovation serves the story. That the design of Chasing Bayla elevates all aspects of the reporting, writing, editing, graphics, photography and illustration. It is innovation as resonant, sweeping, and universal as the story itself.