In late 2012, the New York Times published an interactive feature article, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” It told the story of how a group of elite free skiers and snowboarders fought to survive an avalanche. Unlike past articles in which the multimedia features seemed to be tacked on, it seamlessly blended writing with photographs, video, and maps.
“Snow Fall” was a hit. In only nine days, it became the paper’s most read interactive feature of the year. Critics described it as beautiful and well-written. It won both a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and a Webby Award for best use of interactive video.
With its success came speculation over whether multimedia pieces like “Snow Fall” represent the future of journalism. The idea that journalists need to embrace the move to digital by harnessing the Internet’s strengths in imagery and video was popular in the debate over journalism’s future. The Pulitzer Center, for example, prioritizes journalists working in multiple mediums when awarding grants. So when the venerable New York Times came out with a story that required a team of coders and won both a Pulitzer and a Webby…
We have our doubts. At Priceonomics, we have talented engineers who have assembled and analyzed data for cool blog posts on San Francisco’s rising rents and an index of the most hipster areas in America. But we have not worked on interactive features or strong visuals.
Images and interactivity just don’t seem to be the draw that its cheerleaders want it to be. “Snow Fall” had about 3.5 million readers, roughly on par with the number of people who read BuzzFeed’s 4 most viral slideshows each week.
We suspect that interactive features just don’t fit into the flow of people’s daily news consumption. We enjoy interactive features like “Snow Fall,” but when reading the news, we usually want to briskly read through summaries and analyses of recent events. Slideshows, videos, and interactive maps, however well done, disrupt that flow. On a sleepy Sunday morning, we may linger over them. But we typically skip them in favor of traditional articles.
Are we just late adopters, stuck in our boring old ways while others craft new habits of news consumption that revel in the interactivity of the Internet? Or is the future of journalism a matter of copying and pasting articles into a web browser?