Exploring multimedia reporting, interactive features

By IKU KAWACHI

Although my Sept. 18 post On the cutting edge of graphics and data visualization made a passing reference to one of the site’s more recent interactive items, that alone hardly did the Multimedia section of the The New York Times justice: the site is a fascinating repository of slide shows, maps, videos and other interactive features that one could spend hours upon hours exploring.

Those impressed by the quality of the static infographics and visuals in the print edition of The Times may be astounded by the collection available online — items pertaining to everything from timely issues such as attacks by insurgents in Afghanistan to human interest stories to more lighthearted topics such as fashion, sukkahs and the never-aging Mariano Rivera‘s cut fastball.

Surprisingly, the link to the page is buried deep in the left-hand menu on the Times’ Web site, some 30-odd items down. Clicking on it reveals a simple two-column table with the most recent features listed at the top. Notable items are allocated more real estate and placed in the right-hand column, such as “Reviving Ground Zero“, a time-lapse shot of construction at Ground Zero from July 2008 onwards accompanied by cutaway diagrams of the completed World Trade Center complex and an audio narration track. Another, “The Evolution of Classroom Technology,” is an interactive timeline that begins with the horn-book in the 17th century and culminates with the introduction of the Apple iPad, the “school slate reimagined,” Still another, “Stop, Question, and Frisk in New York Neighborhoods,” takes advantage of one of The Times’ strengths in multimedia — interactive local maps — to plot crime incidence in the city, attaching a full demographic underneath.

The lone caveat is that thumbing through the Multimedia section’s archives is uncharacteristically difficult for a site with as much traffic as The Times. Sure, the page provides a rudimentary search box underneath the supposedly inviting line, “Search multimedia since Jan. 1, 2000,” but what about the users who are there to browse and have no particular keywords in mind? While the section has links to past editions of select features such as “Pictures of the Day,” it lacks even a simple link to “Older Posts” or a list of links to monthly archives.

A shame, too, when one imagines how many more dazzling features must be buried deep within the site. One such example was “How Different Groups Spend Their Day,” a July 2009 feature consisting of an interactive graph somewhat resembling a slab of sedimentary rock that covered the daily lifestyle of typical Americans. The February 2008 feature “The Ebb and Flow of Movies” was another, a graphical representation of box office receipts in the past 22 years.

Often, users can often visit independent sites that have written about particularly interesting past multimedia features—the “10 Inspirational New York Times multimedia and interactive features” ranking at 10,000 Words is a worthwhile place to start. Until The Times improves its interface to make its archives more accessible, however, many of these features may remain elusive.

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