NYT's new cutting edge tech for longform journalism
December 19, 2012 9:49 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times is previewing their latest technology in the longform journalism piece Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (username: avalanche/password: preview). Scroll down slowly to enjoy all the photos, slideshows, and movies that go along with the piece, which looks to be adding new chapters to the story over time.
posted by mathowie (47 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
A wow eyeful. Beautifully and excitingly designed.
posted by nickyskye at 9:52 PM on December 19, 2012

posted by brundlefly at 9:59 PM on December 19, 2012

The layout and technology is neat, but, not knowing about the actual story (and ending), I am anxiously awaiting the next chapter. Sort of like my parents telling me they would go to the movies every Saturday to see the next installment of some serial they were following.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:21 PM on December 19, 2012

1. Totally kills my Browser (with no other Tab open etc.)

2. What is the "latest Technology" here? Some CSS-Transitions? Big Videos? A lot of Text maybe? Since the Voyager Beethoven CD-ROM a Mix of Video, Text, Images and Animations is hardly ground braking ...

Transition & Scroll-Effects have been used greatly in Sites like beetle.com, but that is already last Years Coolness ...

3. If this Stuff and Crap like "The Magazine" are heralded as Innovations than People seem to have forgotten what great Leaps really look like. AJAX and Flash Video really changed the Web, but not a Media-rich Article ...
posted by homodigitalis at 10:22 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very nice. Stevens is getting hammered with tons of snow this week and it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that folks are skiing tunnel creek.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:22 PM on December 19, 2012

I actually don't care if this isn't "ground breaking" or whatever. That's because technology geegaws, in and of themselves, are fairly boring--until someone does something to combine them with material that even if presented on a 1998 geocities page would be interesting.

If I wanted to view the latest hotness with absolutely no content and be bored with it in a few minutes, I'd go peruse a "latest kewl site of the day" aggregator.

I thought this was beautiful and the techno components were interesting and added to the story without being distracting. I would consider a paid subscription to a site which presented a variety of articles in this format on a regular basis. Frankly, I wish the writing itself was a little better, to match the presentation, but it's not awful.

That said, it completely puked in my firefox (with all of its JS controls and ad-blocking add-ins, though I allowed all); it worked fine in chrome.
posted by maxwelton at 10:35 PM on December 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

I love the mixture of text and animation. They're doing an outstanding job with this.
posted by Malor at 10:42 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been on the web a long, long time and this is superb work. Yes, it's gewgaws, but married to excellent content in a way that illuminates the story. I think it's very interesting that the NYT is going this direction, and it beats a reporter talking about his story while sitting at his desk any day of the week.
posted by dhartung at 11:11 PM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is an excellent test of all of my machine's fan speeds.
posted by sageleaf at 11:15 PM on December 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yup. Technological innovation covers new ideas and arrangements of old technology in current contexts.

(flashbacks of arguing with people telling me why the iPad was stupid)

This looks good. Also looks like it would be fantastic on a tablet. Sure wish I made enough money to get one of those. Sigh.
posted by tychotesla at 11:15 PM on December 19, 2012

sageleaf: I just went through the article on my MacBook Air and nary a fan noise or raised temperature. Of course, I don't use Flash in any form.

My quick take on this is that it's a beautiful example of what larger media and news organisations should be doing. It's beyond what an individual blogger or aggregator could accomplish. It leverages journalistic, story telling with images, contextual setting through time lines, weather and geographical overviews. It lets me read if I just want to read. It doesn't throw me out of context when additive visuals or images support the story, etc...

It ain't about whether the technology is new or stale. It's the best example of using new media for journalistic story telling I've seen yet from a major outlet.

This is what I would pay for.
posted by michswiss at 11:26 PM on December 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Thanks for warning us that there are videos in that link! Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! Not as random-access as text! Imply that I require winking and blinking to hold my attention! Hardly ever work! Noisy! We hates them forever!
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 11:27 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The special effects are really impressive, but for the most part I don't think they improve upon the experience of just reading text. Maybe it would be totally kickass on a tablet like tychotesla mentioned, but if you're interested in just reading all that motion takes away from the impressiveness of the piece.

Maybe not the slide shows and videos that appear when you click highlighted words, though. Keeping those hidden until you click on them like that might make reading a little more distraction free.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:27 PM on December 19, 2012

I like this.

It’s a bit herky-jerky while all the resources are loading up, so I think there’s a lot of work to be done to improve this experience, but overall it’s a calm read. Instapaper seems to be able to make sense of the thing, though Safari 5.0’s “reader” view only catches the first few paragraphs.
posted by migurski at 11:33 PM on December 19, 2012

I was able to read the article with Javascript turned off, which was nice, but when I turned it on there were so many things jumping at me that I felt seasick.

I would pay not to have this.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:36 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It looks totally effortless on Chrome, but it was probably a heroic effort to pull off. I like it. I'm interested to know the workflow they have to put this together.
posted by deo rei at 12:34 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scroll down slowly to enjoy all the photos, slideshows, and movies

Maybe I'm old and grumpy, but I pretty much lost interest there.
I don't want slideshows and videos most of the time.
Maybe some people do some of the time, but it seems like more background twiddling to capture the eyeballs and clicks that would have arrived anyway.
I can see why offering these extras is tempting, and I am all for it in theory, but it seems to just be adding to the cost of producing the content, which no one wants to pay for.

I didn't need to enter a password, and there was a hell of a lot of whitespace and transposed text, so I do suspect I am missing a lot
(I'm at a point where if I have to whitelist too much not obvious stuff to see a page I surf away)
posted by Mezentian at 12:50 AM on December 20, 2012

The mobile phone version was nice, though the article feels overwritten.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 AM on December 20, 2012

Also something very similar at Pitchfork with their new Bat For Lashes interview.
posted by chillmost at 1:40 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a special snowflake story.
posted by spitbull at 2:14 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Overwritten you say?

It reads like a telenovela script where the author was paid by the word with bonuses for each flowery metaphor. Ugh.
posted by spitbull at 2:15 AM on December 20, 2012

Isn't this the same story that was described less floridly by I think an Outside (or similar magazine) writer... I think I saw it linked from somewhere on here, maybe a week or two ago? I didn't get through a whole lot of this link (it wasn't grabbing me), but some of the details sound like they match up.
posted by eviemath at 3:43 AM on December 20, 2012

Wow, great to see the NYT leading with this tech ... once I got some default blocks outta the way ... moving web documents away from the frozen paper model to something "living, breathing", something that can be added to at any time, that can grow over time, that can accumulate - sidebars, commentaries, additional imagery, biblios, links to associated material, like ... a snowball.

From some of the contents, looks like they need an intensity dial.
posted by Twang at 4:37 AM on December 20, 2012

Doesn't even display for me in Firefox. I just get a header bar. If I reload the page, the text flashes on the screen briefly before the reload hits...

Awesome display of technological ingenuity.
posted by sutt at 4:48 AM on December 20, 2012

Make sure Noscript is disabled, and mentions of Brightcove and Typescript are enabled in Ghostery if you use it.

I like it, but I think it definitely helps that they chose a subject with a white theme to produce this project.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:57 AM on December 20, 2012

I thought at least the Google Earth-esque flyover was really interesting and illustrative. Gave me a sense of place that is usually missing from these sort of articles.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:18 AM on December 20, 2012

It's just a preview / demo thing, so it makes sense that they have a less solid story, and went with a story that would lend itself well to this kind of treatment.

Seeing the geography gives you a sense of scale and location; the gratuitous flybys work in this context, where watching negotiations over the fiscal cliff probably wouldn't.

The interaction model is explicitly oriented around tablet users- the giant single scrolling page with panels that open and close will work well on finger-gesture-scrolling tablets, where mice scrolling is a bit more tedious.

If you look at this as a proof of concept / thing you can sell to advertisers / sponsors, it makes a bit more sense. I can easily see a certain type of story - extensions of the Globe's big picture, in some ways- really benefiting from this. The production costs will be pretty huge, so it's really only likely to work with the NYT magazine content.

The problem is that the NYT magazine section doesn't really have quite the same standards of quality and integrity that the front page tends to run with. I suspect that the overblown logorrhea is likely to be a staple of this type of feature in the future.

tldr: Neat demo, makes financial sense for magazine stories, once it rolls out we'll probably love the pictures and hate the copy.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:19 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought this was pretty neat, and I was astonished when it didn't crash my browser and everything loaded fine once I'd clicked the "temporarily allow..." in noscript.
posted by rtha at 5:50 AM on December 20, 2012

It turned on my laptop fan, and dimmed the room lights. Not really the lights, but the fan is still running 5 minutes later.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:57 AM on December 20, 2012

I'm glad we are all remembering the core MetaFilter principle during this busy holiday time: For every link, be sure to tell everyone exactly how your computer hardware performs and whether or not your idiosyncratic browser set-up works flawlessly. Thanks!
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Make sure Noscript is disabled,

Your milage may vary, but I would never do this.

and mentions of Brightcove and Typescript are enabled in Ghostery if you use it.

Data Collected:
Anonymous (Browser Information, Demographic Data, Hardware/Software Type)
Pseudonymous (IP Address (EU PII))
Data Sharing:
Anonymous data is shared with 3rd parties.

I am not seeing Typescript at all, but Ghostery is picking up Webtrends.

I can read the story just fine without either of these things enabled.
posted by Mezentian at 6:40 AM on December 20, 2012

Hella yeah, I'd never let Brightcove through my filter dude.
posted by spitbull at 8:30 AM on December 20, 2012

That is a wonderful use of the web to tell a compelling story. To me, this is what I hope will be the future of e-books -- finding ways to blend video, sound, and text without calling attention to flashy bullshit. Thanks so much for the link!
posted by jasper411 at 9:02 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's wrong with Brightcove?
posted by nev at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2012

Yup, this is the same story from Outside that had an FPP last week (see here if you want to know how the story ends). Having read that first, and then this, I'm definitely impressed with the NYT--for me, it adds tremendously to the story to get the flyover view of the geography (seriously, SO COOL).
posted by iminurmefi at 9:34 AM on December 20, 2012

+1 awesome
posted by ejoey at 10:36 AM on December 20, 2012

I had said the Outside article was "shorter and less exhaustive" than I had expected; this NYT Magazine piece fills that gap.

As to the style, this is what magazine writing is. I see people constantly complaining about Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, even the New Yorker, and here the NYT Magazine. They offer the opportunity for longer, more thoughtful pieces and they are not written to the AP Stylebook. I found nothing in the writing distracting.
posted by dhartung at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2012

Unfortunately, that flyover doesn't actually show the location of the avalanche. At the end of the flyover, you see the south face of Cowboy Mountain. Hopefully they will show more in future chapters.

The approach is from the opposite north side of the final view via a couple of chairlifts and then a short hike to the peak. The route down is on the far right of the final view (skier's left) into what looks like an open bowl, and then straight down through an open area that shows some switchback roads that are used to service some power transmission towers on the top of the ridge. The avalanche location is not visible, below the edge of this view on the right side.

The actual Tunnel Creek is not what is labeled here but is instead the valley at the base of the mountain running from right to left. Once you reach the valley floor, you have to ski the logging road a little over a mile to the left of this view to reach the highway where you thumb a ride back to the ski area. They call the run Tunnel Creek because of where you end up at the bottom, not the label in this view.

The seven-mile Burlington Northern railroad tunnel runs directly below Cowboy Mountain, thousands of feet below the peak. The Pacific Crest Trail is just off the right edge of this view.
posted by JackFlash at 11:17 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Newspapers put exorbitant effort into the production of print pages -- they have staffs of full-time designers working for up to a week or sometimes longer on special spreads or reports -- so it has always been sad to me that their approach to much of the web has been to funnel it into one-size-fits-none templates and call it a day.

This is the first time I can recall ever seeing a news organisation put the same sort of effort, talent and technology-pushing skill* into an online piece as they do into a major feature spread. Am delighted.

* seriously, the things I've seen Quark Xpress 3.3 made to do are astounding. We think of them now as hide-bound retronauts clinging to the past, but newspapers spent 100 years at the very cutting edge of technology.
posted by fightorflight at 11:18 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nice use of non-text media to complement the text. Not knowing the location, I appreciated the map (and JackFlash's correction), and enjoyed the photos + video.

Reminds me of what Cowbird does, just with a big budget.
posted by doctornemo at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2012

Oh sweet, looks like as of this afternoon, all the "chapters" are up and the whole story is there and annotated and the password is gone.

Man, the one section where they show the mountain and everyone's initial ski path as you read the story is kind of amazing, I've never seen anything like that before.
posted by mathowie at 3:19 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's very chilling and I'm not making a pun for clever points or anything. It is stuff like this that keeps me going back to the Grey Lady. There's still some life left in her. It's not just the technology, it's the blending of video/text/story/information/reporting. Brilliant piece.
posted by Fizz at 6:44 PM on December 20, 2012

It looks cool, but I wonder if all the extras will encourage deep reading, or just make skimming more rewarding.
posted by stbalbach at 7:27 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

For folks who prefer a take-home copy, Byliner (along with the Times) just published an extended version of this story as an e-short. Full disclosure: I founded Byliner, but this is not a self-link.
posted by Scoop at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2012

The full thing is up now. The multimedia elements are absolutely not stuck-on: the maps are thoughtful, and the recordings of the calls are harrowing. If you went for a looksy at the web tricks and design, it's well worth setting aside an hour or two to go back and sit through the content.
posted by fightorflight at 11:47 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just came across this scary POV video of a skier getting buried in an avalanche in Alaska; very lucky to be found and dug out in 5 minutes.
posted by Flashman at 2:54 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Flashman: "Just came across this scary POV video of a skier getting buried in an avalanche in Alaska; very lucky to be found and dug out in 5 minutes."

posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:04 PM on January 11, 2013

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