Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Impressive Oil Drilling Spread by New York Times Shows How Newspapers Can Bridge Divide Between Print and Online

Starting To Redefine The Newspaper of the Future With More Explanatory Reporting

Features have, of course, long been part of the Business Day section of The New York Times. Sometimes, they are employed to fill space during a slow news day. On other occasions, they follow up to provide crucial and intriguing angles on a story that's dominated the news.
Then there are others that simply tell a yarn worth spinning. Such is the case with today's takeout by oil reporter Jad Mouawad about tensions that stem from Royal Dutch Shell wanting to drill off Alaska's north coast, and fears by the natives about how that could jeopardize their traditions, most importantly, whaling.
Mouawad and photographer Damon Winter traveled to Barrow for a fair and thorough look at the conflict between Shell's thirst for oil and how those efforts could scare off the bowhead whales, a major source of food for the Inupiat people in those parts.
The piece takes up most of the front page of Business Day and, unusually, the section's entire back page. Seven photographs, including a gorgeous mountain shot (above) that made it to A-1, were devoted to the story, which is augmented by an online slide show narrated by Mouawad.
Yes, this is something that's becoming more de rigueur on more media sites, but here is one instance where it was carried out with a lot of thought and deliberation, not just for the sake of doing it.
As we come to rely on newspapers less and less for a look back at the previous day's top stories, such packages may be the only way for newspapers, even the Times, to offer up a value proposition for readers.
The Wall Street Journal has gradually shifted in this direction, an effort that may only be hastened if WSJ.com, as expected, becomes free and needs to differentiate itself from the bevy of other financial sites.
In the end, both readers and reporters win out. It gives us a chance to read stories we might not otherwise get to see. And it gives reporters a chance to get out of the office, away from their comfort zones and examine what's really happening on their beat.
For Mouawad, Barrow is a long way from Gray Lady HQ on Eighth Avenue, or the comfy environs of an OPEC meeting in Vienna. But he and Winter evidently relished this assignment, and its shows in the end result.

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