Monday, 17 September 2007

New York Times storytelling memo

Another leaked memo: this time from Jonathan Landman, managing editor of The New York Times. I must start leaking my own memos instead of blogging - leaked memos always attract far more attention.

Anyway, as picked up by Gawker and Editors Weblog, this one talks about online storytelling skills:

Times have changed. Our online storytelling skills have evolved to the point where you really can get the whole story without reading a newspaper article. It's a remarkably rich experience that goes well beyond using video or maps or pictures to tell a story—something we (and others) have done well many times. The innovation lies in putting them together in a way that tells the story with all the nuance, comprehensiveness, authority and depth that define The New York Times. (It's hard to imagine online storytelling at this level coming from a non-integrated newsroom. Neither 'newspaper people' nor 'web people' could have done it alone.)
It's worth looking at the story that he links too not only because it is a good example of interactivity that could only happen on the web, but because it patently does not tell a story.

It allows users to explore the story - unguided - in as many directions as they feel inclined, but it doesn't tell a story. This isn't a value judgement, I don't think, just pedantry on my part.

One of the things that I do still value about traditional written journalism is the inverted pyramid which lets you read through the story from the most important facts to the least important facts until they stop becoming of interest to you. Indeed, I can get through pages of a newspaper reading only the headlines.

The intro to the NYT "story" begins:

To study the ground-level effects of the American troop buildup, reporters and video journalists for The New York Times visited Baghdad's neighborhoods, interviewing residents, Americans on patrol and Iraqi officials. To explore the videos and written reports, select a neighborhood below.
So, is the "story" the fact that the NYT has visited Baghdad's neighbourhoods? Maps, images, charts, and interactive stuff are brilliantly engaging, but don't confuse them with story-telling.

Footnote: Have I really written a blog post disagreeing with managing editor of The New York Times?Oh dear.

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