2016 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom winner

The New York Times

Judges comments

The New York Times has paved the way for its use of new digital tools and platforms.

About the Project

When The New York Times sought to bring to life the hardships of child refugees, we did not turn to text and photos and other traditional tools of foreign correspondence. We developed a groundbreaking virtual reality app that vividly transported viewers to the grinding conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and South Sudan.

The impact of climate change in Greenland? We deployed a drone that captured footage of melting ice that startled even veteran scientists.

With income inequality playing a prominent role in the presidential race, we could have stuck to reporting the views of political scientists and economists. We instead designed an interactive — “How likely is it that children who grow up in very poor families go to college?” — and asked readers to graph their answers. When we showed the real data, truths and misconceptions were revealed.

In video, too, we took inventive steps, reconstructing the brutal mob killing of an Afghan woman named Farkhunda using cellphone clips and other artifacts gathered from dozens of witnesses and often shared on Whatsapp. It was a new type of documentary video for the mobile age.

Over the last year, The Times has been creating vivid digital experiences that are helping to redefine journalism itself. We are often telling stories in an entirely new language that melds video, charts, data visualizations, maps, audio, photos, social media and text. Some of these deeply immersive interactives made otherwise impenetrable data accessible and enthralling. Others took readers on compelling visual journeys.

We have reimagined our newsroom so that these projects are no longer exceptions that appear infrequently on our digital platforms. They are part of the very fabric of what we do, day after day. Graphics designers, video journalists and other digital storytellers are playing just as prominent a role as beat reporters.

This transformation is reflected in how we cover breaking news on major events like the terror attacks in Paris. Consider “Three Hours of Terror in Paris, Moment by Moment,” which used maps, graphics, satellite footage, photos and other pieces of reporting to offer a moment-by-moment breakdown of the violence that was far more affecting than a standard timeline. We followed up with a video that described the first-person account of a survivor of the attacks whom we found through social media. “It’s the nightmare we all had as kids,” he said.

To investigate ISIS and other terrorist networks, we pioneered new forms of reporting based on social media. Our stories showed how these groups used Twitter to recruit new fighters and workers, demonstrating their allure among disaffected young people. We chronicled a jihad supporter’s online courting of a young Sunday school teacher in rural Washington State, presenting chilling details of a campaign of flattery and indoctrination over social media that brought the young woman to the brink of leaving her family.
To cover planned events like presidential primaries, we created sweeping destinations that incorporated live reporting, social media, photos, video and other elements — a vibrant news ticker that brought readers back again and again.

We believe that our audience can be a partner in how we tell stories. When we wrote a powerful historic piece about 272 men, women and children who were sold by Georgetown University as slaves to pay off debt, we also reached into the present, seeking help in finding their descendants. Scores of readers responded, and we were able to confirm their ancestry and give them a glimpse of their history. “I don’t have to watch ‘Roots’ 150 times anymore to imagine how we could come from there to here,” one said. “I have a road now that I can look at.”

We took a format that is often used to entertain — quizzes — and turned it into a vehicle to enlighten readers’ understanding of provocative issues like police brutality. We used video footage from police body cameras to show how viewer perspective can drastically alter how we see encounters with the police. We asked readers to decide what had really happened in the footage that they were presented. Their answers depended in part on whether they viewed the police favorably.

This effort to put readers at the center of our journalism extended to sports, where we designed interactives such as, “What It’s Like to Face a 150 M.P.H. Tennis Serve.” We obtained speed and trajectory data to create a real-life sense of just how fast professional serves are — and how little time players have to react to them.

Our journalists found other ways of morphing traditional forms to tell stories. People are accustomed to watching music videos. But what would happen if you used a video to tell the story of a song’s creation? That’s what we did in a feature that described the evolution of the Justin Beiber hit, “Where Are U Now.” It included interviews with Bieber, and his collaborators, Diplo and Skrillex, woven together with an unusual kind visual annotation of the music.

We’re pleased to have this opportunity to be considered for the ONA award for general excellence. We believe that The Times has not only produced stunning digital storytelling in the last year, but also demonstrated that journalism’s old guard can create a culture of innovation that rivals that of any Silicon Valley start-up.