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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cash NYtimes rules everything around me

** Important note: All images in this post are screen grabs from the "One in 8 Million" site, and were shot by Todd Heisler. All images are property of Todd and are copyrighted by the New York Times.**

The New York Times has another excellent, excellent online multimedia piece called "One in 8 Million" on their site, which basically picks out one of the eight million people that swarm the city to tell their story. It's a terrific concept, and quite timely for me personally, as I just spent the last two days in the city talking to photo editors and some other key persons.

Revisiting the city, even for two short days, was a great reminder of the four years I spent living there while I went to college at NYU. I promptly moved out the day my last class ended senior year, this past May. It was a great experience, but I'm not cut out to live in New York City, especially without some dependable way to escape the city on the weekends (though I still usually managed to do it). I’m too outdoorsy, and badly needed more greenery, less noise, and more courteousness than the city could offer.

It was funny to come back to the city after an eight month hiatus; I noticed things for the first time I'd always taken with a grain of salt: the general feeling of being in an all-encompassing ratrace, people packing into already packed subway cars, the way many New Yorkers run-walk and weave along the sidewalks as if they'll explode if they move any slower, and the screeching wheels of the 6 train as it turns in union square station. All this aside, it’s a great place to go visit, and I cram in as many cultural experiences (read: food) as I can.

I digress. I came here to talk about that Times multimedia piece. It’s funny, I’ve been having a great many conversations about the Times online recently, many of which turn into discussions about the publishing industry, advertising, and the relationship photography has with both industries.

Michel Kramer-Metraux, director of men's formal wear at Sak's Fith Ave, above and below

It’s no secret that pretty much every magazine is getting increasingly thinner, ad sales are down across the board, and many people are opting out of their subscriptions of hard-cover magazines/newspapers in favor of reading articles online, for free. A whole grip of magazines, bleeding money, were astonishingly slow to develop their websites to accommodate, and take advantage of this new model of readership- an online venue filled with exciting, extremely potent multimedia possibilities.

Since there was no smooth mass transition from print media to online media (no magazines putting in inserts saying “hey, go visit our website for other cool features) there ended up being this mass of people who dropped their subscriptions to magazines, but had nowhere to go online. So they explored, and these bands of enormous groups of targeted online readers started roaming the web (everything from indie-rawk lovers to politics hounds) looking for some journalism that filled the void of their magazine.

Michel Kramer-Metraux, director of men's formal wear at Sak's Fith Ave

One interesting point is that all these people started off with no particular allegiance to any one site, we all kind of started on a blank slate, which is pretty powerful considering how much effort and money is put into brand loyalty (think America’s close relationship to Time magazine). So these millions of people were all extremely willing to go visit any site for the first time, and if the site has good free content, they’ll keep coming back, again and again. This quality, original content, especially in the form of diverse multimedia- big photos, interesting and quick-loading videos, well-written articles- make or break the site. If the site can stir the interest and trust of its readers again and again, and they can make it a ‘default visit’ many times a day, it’s the golden ticket.

The Times Online, I believe, has got this concept down so well, and saw it so far ahead of time that they should go treat themselves to a million ice cream cones. It is the web’s premier multimedia powerhouse (google and youtube, put your hands down) not only because of their excellent articles, but in large part because of their mind-blowing, progressive multimedia.

They were one of the first publishers to incorporate large, high-quality photographs onto the site (not just seconds from the print version of the paper). They’ve got kick-ass videos that add much heft to many stories, poignant audio slideshows all over the place, blogs, media/internet-focused articles (like Virginia Heffernan’s section on the Times Magazine), and they tremendously utilize most-emailed feature (which brilliantly drives up readership, and clearly shows the bulk of Times readers are parents who travel, like Maureen Dowd, and are agsty about getting their kids into the right ivy-league school).

I could go on. Before I stop rhapsodizing, I have two more points: The Times has done an excellent job of cross-referencing- mentioning the print paper online, and mentioning online in the hard-copy of the paper, so the stories and features seamlessly stack atop each other. Finally, they have given all this beautiful multimedia it’s own space, space it really deserves. Photos aren’t pushed off to the side, they’re given their own stage. Same goes for video, the blogs, etc. etc. "One in 8 Million" is a perfect example of this mixture of supremely quality content, engaging and unique storytelling, and a big, well-designed stage to present it on. God love Todd Heisler.

Joel Karp, general manager and former owner of Columbia Drugstore, above and below

I’ll plow through to my next and final point, which wraps up this whole post in a neat little bow: All of this content is free, infinitely shareable, and completely archived. In one of those discussions I mentioned wayyyyyyy up at the top of this post, a lady I was talking to was like, “so isn’t the Times just losing money on providing these stories for free, especially because there are many people like me, who have dropped their subscriptions to read the paper online?” Yeah, they are losing money, but in the process, they have drawn this ennnnnnooooooormous readership base who frequent the site up to 10 times a day. And advertisers want to get in on that, especially its targeted media with better demographic profiling, so people see the right ads. Times readers themselves, as a whole, are a fairly targeted bunch (think about all those Apple ads that have been running there recently).

There’s no doubt that they’re is hurting, like everyone else, and there’s no doubt that advertisers are cutting back like woah, but I believe the Times is setting themselves up in a prime position for the next generation of publishing and journalism, where online readership dominates and site visitors can expect a range of tailored multimedia options to deliver the story. One thread will remain between successful journalism in the 20th and 21st century: original, quality content will always remain paramount, and it will always make or break the publication.

1 comment:

Tristan Wheelock said...

A friend of mine sent me a link to the one in 8 million project last week. I thought it was excellent . I work at the St. Petersburg Times and now myself and another writer friend are going to try and do similar projects in Tampa. Have you checked out the excellent multimedia site ? There are some wonderful projects there.