To tell great stories, newsrooms must consistently operate at the intersection of powerful technology and courageous journalism. The Washington Post has strived for years to reach that space and we believe we arrived in 2015.
The projects we have entered in the Online Journalism Awards reflect not only a deep commitment to terrific reporting and editing but a respect and passion for user experience, design and back-end engineering. This work reflects a newsroom culture that puts all of those skills together from the very first moment of the first meeting about a project.
Take our N-Word package.
When the NFL decided to penalize the use of the N-Word by players on the field, our sports staff wanted to find a new, insightful way to address this most controversial topic, not just within sports, but in society in general.
As we normally do at the Post, sports editor Matt Vita gathered a talented interdisciplinary group that included our best writers, videographers, designers and engineers, many of whom are embedded in the newsroom.
The writers were the first to suggest that a simple narrative could not convey the emotions that arise from this issue. Soon, the group was scoping out a way to tell this story through video first, something we had never done before on a project of this magnitude. But the group also wanted to allow users to experience the reporting in a very personal way.
The designers and engineers sat down to craft an even more immersive video experience—stretching the capabilities of the video player, the page and the narrative itself. Our solution was to allow the users themselves to tell us what story they wanted told—a custom documentary, built with multiple players on the fly for each user, followed by a create-your-own-conversation social page.
Our print and video journalists arranged interviews between 34 people across the country—and then edited those conversations into nearly 100 individual clips, which were then hand-sorted into eight conversation types. Our designers honed the page so that readers were intuitively led through the process of crafting a narrative by picking from the conversation types.
The result is a dynamic experience that allows readers to explore this story at their own pace, and tells a new, unexpected, emotional story at every visit. The process of crafting and reporting the N-word project changed how every member of the team, and the newsroom as a whole, thinks about telling stories.
The other pieces in the portfolio range from a Pulitzer Prize winning expose on the Secret Service, told using the best visual practices of our times, to a sobering look at the dangers posed by the ever increasing number of drones in our skies, replete with video of the actual drones crashing.
For fun, we included an interactive that found a different, more immersive way to tell the story of facial hair in baseball, one that allowed users to apply beards to their own faces, place those faces on baseball cards and then share those cards on social platforms.
And finally, we include the Washington Post app for Kindle, the first product developed under the supervision of our new owner, Jeff Bezos. The app reflects Jeff’s desire to reduce “cognitive overhead,” the things a user must overcome before getting what they want. An obsession with the consumer drove the app’s development. It has big photos and bold headlines. And it features pinch view, a revolutionary way to experience articles on a tablet that was built as part of a new CMS for the app.
This has been a record-setting year at the Post, with traffic doubling to more than 50 million unique visitors under Comscore metrics and our newsroom growing with a Bezos investment that brought more than 70 new journalists to Washington.
But our most impressive feat is reflected by these projects: The ability to marry great technology with great journalism has allowed us to tell great stories.