NYT project #ThisIs18 blends purposeful design, alternative story forms, multimedia

The New York Times launched a digital project recently that asked, “What does life look like for girls turning 18 in 2018?” The result, a scrolling collection of quotes, images, Q+A sidebars, and graphics, is a great example of an online feature format that matches the content of a story with its design, which many journalism students (and their teachers) have found more difficult to do on the web than in their print publications.

The approach

The Times timed the launch of the project with the International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11. But the work that went into creating the project began long before that day, which is an argument for looking at the calendar and planning your coverage for the year well in advance. In their explanation of their motivation and method, the editors explain that they made the decision to have young female photographers — with the training and support of mentor photographers — be the content creators.

 

Amidst the individual profiles of girls around the world, the project also included a few features that asked all of the girls the same question and visually depicted their responses side-by-side.

The photographers collected information about each subject, and the project includes a short, individualized profile of each girl along with some drop-in features that show similarities and differences across the girls. One is a playlist of responses to the question, “What was the last song you listened to?” Another is a photo collection of what they had for breakfast. And there’s a slider that features their favorite slang word and advice from their mothers.

Photographers asked each girl what the last song they listened to was, and they compiled the songs into an embedded playlist.

The design

The editors refer to the project as a ‘zine, a throwback to early internet independent online magazines. Designers Tracy Ma and Umi Syam built the project using CSS and Javascript, as Syam explained in a Tweet. Student journalists who don’t have the coding skills to execute a project like this shouldn’t be discouraged — similar design could be executed using a combination of images and text directly in a post on your site, or a tool like Adobe Spark could help to make a similar impact.

The social media component

With the launch of the project, the NY Times also introduced the hashtag #ThisIs18 and asked readers to upload their own photos of themselves at the age of 18 along with some advice to their past selves (and young girls around the world). As of this writing, there are about 2,800 posts that use the hashtag. The social component of the story serves as both a way to expand the reach of the story and to invite readers to be part of it.

Application

The project is a great inspiration to student journalists, who could definitely do their own versions of a #ThisIs____ project that’s relevant to their school audience. While it may take a lot of time and planning to do well, it’s these projects that spark conversations and that readers love to share with the people in their communities and personal networks. It’s worth giving it a shot once or twice a year.

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of The Whirlwind newsmagazine and online news publication at West Albany High School in Albany, Ore. She's done some print stuff, some video stuff, and some web stuff over the past 14 years as a student media adviser.

Michelle Balmeo has 52 posts and counting. See all posts by Michelle Balmeo

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