2019 Breaking News, Large Newsroom finalist

Fire Mauls Beloved Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

About the Project

The New York Times’ coverage of the Notre-Dame fire stands out for its visual power, its cultural nuance and its investigative depth. On one of the most competitive stories of the year, the Times probed the fire more deeply, more quickly, asking why the fire burned, who was responsible, and what the scarring of a cultural icon meant, eliciting answers in 36 hours that in the past would have taken weeks or months.

Never before has The Times brought so many approaches to a breaking news story in such a short period of time.

— The coverage was visually inventive: The Times diagrammed the structure in real time, bringing readers inside the cathedral so they could understand where the fire was burning, how it was fought and the critical mistakes that allowed it to get out of control.

As the fire burned, reporters on the ground worked with graphics editors in New York to track the spread of the fire across Notre-Dame and the response of firefighters. Relying on official diagrams and photos, the piece offered a clear picture of the most vulnerable part of the building, an attic crisscrossed by giant timber beams.

Twenty-four hours after the fire was extinguished, The Times published an interactive, rotating 3d model of the cathedral that drew from international fire safety experts to diagram how simple changes to the attic could have protected it.

It was fast: The Times published its first story ahead of other major American news outlets. The rich story was updated more than 100 times over the course of the day, providing live coverage as Notre-Dame’s spire collapsed and the fate of the structure was in doubt.

It was nuanced: Michael Kimmelman, The Times’ architecture critic, helped readers grapple with the symbolism of the building and the fire. “For centuries, Notre-Dame cathedral has enshrined an evolving notion of what it means to be French,” he wrote. “As smoke and flames wafted into the sky on Monday, the symbolism was hard to miss.”

It was investigative: the day after the fire, The Times found that the building lacked fundamental fire-prevention safeguards that are required in more modern structures and have been grafted onto other ancient cathedrals elsewhere in Europe. And in the days that followed, we found that the architect who oversaw the building’s fire safety system had badly misjudged the risks.