“Remix, add value and go whimpsy.” At the Dataharvest+ conference in Brussel Tyson Evans interactive news editor at the New York Times talked about the intersection of journalism, technology and design. He shared three tips on how to succesfully mix the three disciplines.
The day to day work of Evans resolves around answering three questions: Are we telling the right story? How do we build this experience? And how do we give shape the news? The answers come from different fields: journalism, webdevelopement and design. It’s no coincidence that most of Evans teammembers don’t pick just one label for themselves, neither does he. “I like to think of myself as an editor, developer and designer.”
Could vs. Should
“There are a lot of things we or any newsroom could do. And than there are the things you probably should do, the things that add value for your audience. Somewhere these overlap: that’s your sweet spot.” According to Tyson the could or should debate can be seen in the productions of the New York Times. “In 2010 we had – for the first time – access to this firehose of Olympic data. We knew we had to do something with this information. So we put a table together, added a ranking and created some lonely pages.”
The problem with these pages was that there was no sense of urgency at all. “These pages were in no way integrated in the stories told about the events the data talked about”, Tyson says. “Just looking at one of these lonely pages gave readers no idea of what else was happening at the Olympics.” So The New York Times tried again with the London Olympics in 2012. “But this was still not the most reader focused way of showing our content.” So when the Sochi Olympics came around the interactive team tried to combine the data much more aggresively into the story page. “Moving through a story we’d show you the data you care about in the midst of it. It would add to a story by showing who won and who didn’t, and the difference between them.” Evans shows how the New York Times went from ‘could’ with their 2010 and 2012 Olympic productions, to ‘should’ using the same input but reworking the output and adding more value for their audience.
Everything is a remix
Really, everything is a remix. The iPad was first designed seventeen years ago, as was Google Maps thought of more than twenty years a go: everything is remix. Not only do they like this idea at the New York Times – the even made their own remixes. “We remixed an idea we saw first at Gametrailers. Someone played a racing game hundreds of times, and then put all the cars in the same video of the same parcour.”
“In 2010 Amanda Cox came with the idea to re-use this idea for an interactive feature about the mens downhill. Since it’s hard to realize how close won the sport is, she put every seperate participant in one race, making a musical remix.” When the next Olympics knocked on the door, the idea was revisited. “We took the same idea, but now made a video based upon the same principles”, Tyson explains. “For the 2014 Olympimcs we remixed the idea again, this time using pictures as a medium.”
“Whimpsy is good”, Tyson Evans says. “Our whimpsy side projects often come back into future product remixes we make. Some of my personal favorites are the Twitter project @NYT4thdownbot and the dialect quiz.”
Since whimpsy is allowed, The New York Times has a lot of it. Haiku’s and Black-out poetry based upon articles. “These projects were actually published during the National poetry week.” Another example is the Odometer which shows the 2014 Sochi Olympics by numbers. “Most of these project are completely geeky and only exists thanks to the passion of a co-worker.”
To combine journalism, technology and design succesfully you’ll need all fields represented in the team you’re building. But don’t underestimate the importance of creative and critical thinking by remixing media, technologies and ideas; finding the sweet spot between could and should; and dare to love the whimpsy passions of teammembers on the newsfloor.