Sunday in the Times: Choking

Choking on GrowthThe 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 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.

Designing the News

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, overhauling the user experience and adding new features, while the multimedia journalists focus on providing Web-specific content to complement the written journalism.

Right: Our special section for “Choking on Growth” showcases, from top to bottom, our lead article, an audio slide show, a video report, and an information graphic. Note the whip-smart series icon designed by the talented Christoph Niemann
Choking on Progress: As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes
Choking on Progress: The World’s Smokestack
Choking on Progress: The Real Cost
Choking on Progress: Mapping the Impact

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, 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.

Right: “Choking on Growth” as it was promoted on our home page this afternoon.
Choking on Progress at the Home Page

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.

  1. This looks wonderful–and I’m very glad that a western news source is covering this with the depth and prominence that it has deserved for some time.

  2. I have been a long-time fan of how the Times lays out its online content. It is in my opinion by far the best out of any newspaper on the web. You can sense that a real effort goes into making the articles display just as beautifully as they do in the print version, while most websites just type the text in a template and hit the publish button.

  3. It’s funny that it comes from the USA, a country that refuse to change his life style to pollute less. You know… Kyoto for a start? Or buying extra polutting permit?

    I think a similar article could be written about the USA, Russia, and probably lot of European country.

    Still, it’s a great work Khoi! I love reading the N-Y Times to see a different point of view on many things. And you made it a pleasure!

  4. Pretty powerful stuff. It’s quite sobering. And based on some of the data, it looks like America needs to address some of its own problems. It’s funny how we think oceans and land divides separate us when in reality man’s actions can affect everyone globally.

  5. You guys really designed a nice framework to support the beautiful information design. Great job! 🙂

  6. The New York Times consistently puts out beautiful, insightful informational graphics and slideshows. Why is this interactive content ghettoized? A lot of navigational clues on the site seem to put multimedia offerings one-half level above a Kiddie Korner (read along with your parents, kids!) and not as serious journalistic enterprises fully the peer of any other article.

    The redirects to a …/interactive/… url. These multimedia pages are the only ones graced with a top-head navigator connecting each and all of the story’s channels. The article does not live in the ‘interactive’ ghetto, but is a peer to the “real” stories. The only connections from the article back to the content hub are in the sidebar (below a photo caption, under content that is clearly marked as “multimedia”) and in a banner at the top of the page (that not-so-obviously links back). There’s nothing at the close of the article (“Would you like to learn more?”) connecting back to the hub.

    I’m sure there’s much more (technically, politically, and design-ally) to this than I can see from where I sit. And sites /should/ make it clear — in the link or by providing a launch page — whenever an article will require a plugin, make noise, or tax your computer. But it sells the Times’ excellent work and innovative collaboration short to so aggressively let the medium downgrade the message.

  7. From the information design perspective (i.e., the format): greate micro-site (as you call it).

    From the content point of view… could we expect a USA version of this micro-site? The USA havn’t signed the Kyoto protocol for some reason….

  8. This is my first time in your blog. It┤s very special, congratulations!
    Congratulations about the special of China too. It┤s a reference to learn something more about the country.
    I┤m interactive graphic┤s designer in Spain for I want share my job with you. I hope you┤ll enjoy it.

    Kind regards, Pablo.

  9. the interactive feature is great … having worked with similar data (in print and online), I “feel your pain” … but applaud you for trying to design the news … they combination of compelling graphics with non-trivial but easy to understand headlines is fantastic — and not easy to do. kudos

  10. What you don’t mention hear that I really liked about this special section was the promo for it on other pieces of the site.

    On the main World News section page there is a wonderful little box promoting this special report. It is similar enough to the presentation of normal articles that it fits in but stand out by revealing the richness of the special news package.

    Kudos to you and your team on this great work!

  11. Beautiful. Informative.
    Tiny, brilliant detail, which apparently y’all are using elsewhere:
    Using what appears to be Flash to cycle through the various “Share” buttons for Facebook, NewsVine, etc.
    Tiny detail allows linking and social networking but doesn’t clutter your design.
    The idea might be old, but it’s new to me. Saw something similar for feedback at the Holocaust Museum site.
    Brilliant, wherever it came from.

  12. Lemme guess the next one will be :

    “Choking on Paranoia” an in-depth examination of “the human toll, global impact and political challenge of US paranoia.”

    Unlikely though 😉

    I feel a bit like I’m reading a blog now of an Apparatchik in the USSR circa 1952. Comrade Khoi, I applaud your outstanding contribution to the Great War against the rising East! 100 wheat bales are on their way to your family as we speak!

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