Sat 25 Aug
The front page of tomorrow’s New York Times will feature the first installment in a series called “Choking on Growth,” an in-depth examination of “the human toll, global impact and political challenge of China’s epic pollution crisis.” It’s a major piece of reporting, and as usual you can find it at NYTimes.com alongside similarly excellent, complementary video, multimedia and interactive infographics.
There’s a little more value add this time, though, in the form of a special section on the site devoted to “Choking on Growth.” It’s essentially a micro-site that showcases the entire series — traditional journalism as well as Web-only content — as a coherent package, and it will be updated and added to over the coming days and weeks as the series continues. It’s also the result of a tremendous and not-as-frequent-as-I’d-like instance of our designers collaborating with editors from both the print and Web side, and with our multimedia, video and information graphics teams.
In the grand scheme of design innovation, I’ll admit that what you see under the rubric “Choking on Growth” is not groundbreaking. But for our design group it represents a definitive step forward in designing the news online.
It’s rare that we have the time and opportunity to develop something unique for the site that responds to specific journalistic endeavors (we’ve done it in limited ways before, specifically last September 11th and on Election Day 2006). For even a relatively small online presentation like this, there’s usually so much effort involved in gathering requirements, planning and then actually implementing that it rarely makes sense to undertake such a project for stories that will run even for a few weeks. We’re more typically focused on developing the platform of NYTimes.com, overhauling the user experience and adding new features, while the multimedia journalists focus on providing Web-specific content to complement the written journalism.
But this time, thanks to extra foresight on the part of our editors, we were able to set aside the time to cook up what you see at NYTimes.com/China, and I’m extremely proud of what was accomplished. I should clarify: we were able to set aside time beforehand and start discussing what could be done. But even with a major series like this, the lion’s share of meaningful work happens in the last few days leading up to publication when the final journalistic decisions are made — that’s the way the news industry works. And to be sure, everyone put in their share of extra hours to get this done.
It’s not perfect — it should surprise no one experienced with the limitations of content management systems that ours isn’t ideally suited to this level of improvisational design, and so there were nontrivial technical challenges to clear — but it’s a good start, I think, to a more robust presentation of our content on the Web. And here’s where you come in: I’m hoping you and everyone you know traffics the hell out of it and generates some big numbers, so I can justify to my higher-ups why we should be doing a lot more of this kind of thing in the future.