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 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.
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.
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.
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.