When the lights go on at the New York Times, our work can start

On election night, the most useful information display I found was the New York Times’ interactive election map. It’s another bravura performance from a team of talented designers and programmers who keep raising the bar. Back in May, two of them — Gabriel Dance and Shan Carter — joined me for a conversation about how they do this work, and why it matters.

Last week, the venture capitalist Tim Oren wrote an essay entitled The Newspaper Crash of 2009… And How You Can Help in which he argues:

The industry has abdicated its social function to support a well-informed electorate, and become a propaganda arm of the left. In so doing, they have sullied their brands and lost the trust of their readers. The economic consequences of this default of their value proposition are now becoming apparent. The Internet and an economic crisis together would be bad enough, but the industry has only itself to blame for the egregious behavior on display for the last few years, and at its worst right now.

And concludes:

When the lights go out at the New York Times, our work will be finished.

The newspaper industry has surely earned this kind of scathing criticism. And it may well fail to capitalize on the amazing opportunities for self-reinvention afforded by the Internet. But the Times is attracting an all-star team of information architects, interactive graphics designers, programmers, and media producers. And according to Gabriel Dance and Shan Carter, these folks are increasingly collaborating with reporters to marshall complex information in ways that make the newspaper’s stories deeper and more open to independent analysis and interpretation.

So I’ll say it differently: When the lights go on at the New York Times, our work can start.

12 Comments

  1. Jon,

    Thanks for reminding us that *some* of the newspapers out there are taking solid and interesting steps to remain relevant in the changing media landscape.

    Dan

  2. I agree that good things are starting to appear in the online versions of some newspapers. I click on more NYT emails now than I used to, and it looks better beneath than it did. The real stories now are complex, but how slow these people have been to realise this and to realise that collaboration is the best way to scale that difficulty.

  3. > how slow these people have been to realise
    > this and to realise that collaboration is
    > the best way to scale

    Big ships, including the one I hopped aboard in Jan 07, turn slowly. But if and when they do, wow. And as you rightly point out, in a connected world, collaboration is the engine of change.

  4. Nice post. The Times did an interesting job where the major television networks and their touchscreens were an embarrassement.

    Hadn’t noticed you’ve joined the borg — are you still in Keene? I would love to catch up.

  5. I too have a love/hate relationship with the Times. They are clearly editorially biased, although once you learn their cadences you can read the tea leaves and divine some modicum of balanced “truthiness” from them. On the other hand, their web team is top notch. Alone among the big papers, the Times is constantly pushing the innovation envelope and it shows as you pointed out.

  6. The notion that the newspaper industry as a whole is leftist propaganda is utter rubbish, and I’m greatly disappointed that you appear to think this is true. The Wall Street Journal is fair and unbiased? Give me a break. There are plenty of media outlets of all kinds on both sides of the political spectrum. The problems print media are having have nothing to do with an alleged, and false, leftist bias.

  7. > The notion that the newspaper industry as
    > a whole is leftist propaganda is utter
    > rubbish, and I’m greatly disappointed that
    > you appear to think this is true.

    I don’t in fact think that, but I see how careless writing suggests that I do.

    Rather than:

    “The newspaper industry has surely earned this kind of scathing criticism.”

    I ought to have said some version of what you said, namely that the industry deserves criticism, but bias — in any direction — isn’t the problem, rather the problem is failure to engage with what Dan Gillmor calls “the former audience”.

  8. Pingback: Udell on NYTimes

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