In the week before Christmas in 2012, almost 3 million people clicked onto an online newspaper story about an avalanche in the Cascade mountains. Readers spent an average of 12 minutes on the page, an eternity in a jittery Web environment where attention spans are usually measured in seconds. But The New York Times' "Snow Fall" was beautiful, enlisting interactive Flash animation, videos and photo slide shows that helped tell a multi-tiered story. Its writer, John Branch, won a Pulitzer Prize.
Long-form stories don't usually fare so well online. One of the main people behind the success of "Snow Fall" was Tyson Evans, the Times' deputy editor for interactive news. At the intersection of journalism, design and technology, the 30-year-old UCLA grad oversees a team that, he says, "focuses on building solutions for more interesting and compelling storytelling, encouraging conversation on our stories.â
Despite its nickname as the staid "Gray Lady," the Times is one of the few newspapers to make a relatively smooth transition onto the Web, setting up a smartly considered paywall and shifting considerable resources toward dynamic, interactive content.
During the 2012 election, Evans enlisted his team to provide up-to-the-minute vote counts and live fact-checking during the debates.
"The arc leading up to an election is really fascinating," says Evans. "But there's a huge wealth of information that we used to help make sense of polling and of issues like campaign finance reform. We had to find ways to help people not drown in a sea of data.â
The Times must also adapt its stories to every single platform, whether phone or tablet or desktop. "If you stumble on a Twitter link to a Times story, you likely stumbled there on a phone," says Evans. "You don't have the huge canvas to tell the story that you do with newsprint or a traditional desktop website. People are expecting value very quickly on a small screen, and to have it make sense to them while standing in line at the grocery store.â
Plus, the digital team at the Times needs to allow online readers to really engage with stories on a personal level that goes beyond "comments hanging off the bottom of an article," says Evans.
"In the next few months we have a mayor's race here in New York, a special election in New Jersey, plus the general election this fall. We want to be able to let readers set the agenda of what issues they want to hear about, rather than [read] a dedicated feedback loop of the same propaganda they're seeing in the field. We're imagining ways to make it a two-way conversation between the reader and what we're broadcasting out.â
This constant dialogue between reader and newspaper may define the future of news.
TFNW profiles: Rick Turoczy (TFNW curator, PIE PDX), Tyson Evans (NYTimes), Ward Cuningham (Wiki Inventor), Michelle Rowley (Code Scouts), Jackson Gariety (TechStars, teen entrepreneur)
TFNW features: MFNW Installation by Instrument, PDX Drone Challenge, Google Gogglers
Tickets and official site: techfestnw.com
GO: Tyson Evans speaks about the future of news delivery Saturday, Sept. 7, on the PDC Stage, OMNIMAX at OMSI. 1:30 pm.