3.15.2011

JAPAN AND THE NEW YORK TIMES

Back to Japan, but to make a point about newspapers, or more accurately, news organizations. I've been an editor most of my life, so I often find myself watching how I behave, as a reader, during a crisis such as the one unfolding in Japan. Where do I turn for information? What is effective? What kinds of decisions are being made by editors?

I haven't bought a single newspaper since the tsunami, because the news is moving so rapidly that it is dated by the time it is printed. But I'm online every hour, watching developments. And I am amazed--and deeply grateful for--the ingenuity of editors and artists at The New York Times. One graphic display gave me an instant education in how a nuclear reactor works, and what happens during a meltdown. It is vivid, dynamic, and clear. Please take a look; the more we know about these things, the more informed we are as citizens in the ongoing debate about nuclear energy. Most of us don't realize how much electricity we are already getting from nuclear plants.

On that subject, take a look at this site from the Environmental Protection Agency and find out about the "power mix" in your area. You just punch in your zip code, and learn about what the power plants near you are using to provide you with electricity.

The other graphic is an amazing photo scroll that shows the reader "before" and "after" satellite images of affected areas. Again, the sort of thing that could only be done with sophisticated technology -- and the imagination and training of editors and designers who are thinking up ways to communicate more effectively with readers.

We are all predicting the end of newspapers. And we all get cranky about stories that are missed, skimmed, or mangled, due to poor decisions on the part of gatekeepers.  Yet the Times--along with a few other news organizations--has never had as many powerful tools to use to bring its readers information. This is an excellent moment to watch the morphing of a newspaper into a news organization, combining television, blogging, reportorial muscle, twitter sweeping, and every other possible tool available. It is a dazzling display. 

11 comments:

quintessence said...

Couldn't agree more. I have been reading the NYT online lately. We only receive the Sunday edition as an actual newspaper which my husband threatened to discontinue because I hadn't been reading it lately. So this Sunday, I made a point of opening it up and I must say, it was a pleasure, laying it out on the table - it is easier on my eyes, and I appreciate being able to glance around the double spread. That being said, I love having choices!

William said...

I agree the Times crew is doing a good job at both coverage of the earthquake and advancing their paper into the new age.

The truth is this story will disappear from the 'papers' and television in a month or so and Japan will clean itself up and move on.

The one thing that will stick with me from this coverage is how likely it is for something similar to happen in California. I learned there are 2 vulnerable nuclear power plants in CA - one of which is built very close to the San Andreas Fault which is described as "locked and loaded" since there hasn't been an earthqauke on that fault line for 150 years. Experts say the quake could be as large as 8.1 and could happen at any second - the plant is designed to withstand a 7.5 quake. Not good. Since the United States is known as the "Saudi Arabia of Coal" isn't it time to pump whatever money is necessary to create really truly clean coal technology? I think we are close ot it.

mary said...

Thanks for the heads up on the New York Times. I'll go there now. My heart is still grieving this tragedy. Mary

Tina Hoggatt said...

I am so there with you on the New York Times. They have consistently been out ahead of the game in news coverage interactive content and the reflection of reader photos etc. That said, I still get the paper every day. It's a whole experience for me most days.

i'm going to repost this - you've summed up and called out the resource so nicely.

Dominique said...

Thanks for the repost, Tina Hoggatt. And yes, Mary, I'm with you, still full of grief. William, two things: first, we have yet to fully understand exactly how old those particular plants were; the operator has been given violations several times. Are new plants more secure? Better built? Second, there is fantastic technology, American-engineered, and cost effective, I might add, available to scrub coal emissions. That's what is so infuriating about the latest effort to cripple EPA and dismantle the Clean Air Act. We--and China, and India--are going to be burning coal for a while yet, so we ought to be doing it the cleanest way possible. You are so right.

meadowsweets said...

Midst all the awful news lately I find myself frequently visiting this hummingbird website http://phoebeallens.com/ to watch a mama and her two babies - it's a good antidote.

VL said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the NYTimes....it's a great resource. Even Edward Tufte has used some of their graphics as illustrations of good design.

I agree, too, with the preposterousness of current discussions about repealing the Clean Air Act. I'd like to pick up on your mention of China: A friend of mine who is from Taiwan told me she was surprised to hear that China is setting the pace for all sorts of environmental standards; she looked into the matter further, and discovered that they are being forced into it by the outrageous incidences of cancers, birth defects, and other illnesses directly attributable to the pollution in the air, water and ground. Astonishingly, Chinese factories use 20-80% more fuel than the international average to produce steel, cement, chemicals, and numerous plastic products - -it's cheaper for them to use up the fuel than to bother to think through the processes at the factories. (Who said energy costs are too high?) During WWII, following the stepped-up production of steel, cities like Pittsburgh had to burn their street lamps during the day to allow people to see through the billowing clouds of black smoke and soot. How can anyone want to return to those conditions?

SweetRetreat said...

I enjoy selectively reading The New York Times online which is indeed a dazzling source of information.

Good coverage of the benefits of pet ownership too (-:

Kathryn said...

The Times is under severe pressure from Rupert Murdoch, much as was the Wall Street Journal. Readers appreciative of its valiant stance may mean the difference for 'The Grey Lady.'

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