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.
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.