2017 judges Q&A

Tim Wong, Facebook

“The seemingly minute leaps we are seeing in digital design and audience interaction are actually pretty monumental”

TimWongWhat have you found to be new, novel or different about this year’s entries?
I think one thing that stood out to me are some of the entries coming from East Asia. There have been a couple of places that have submitted mobile only entries — similar to the entries submitted via Snapchat from here, that demonstrate meaningful interaction. It speaks to how this industry has been treating mobile development. Some pretty powerful mobile work has appeared due to everchanging audience consumption habits.

Where do you think the state of digital design is?
I am definitely concerned about over homogenization of design, in news especially. While there seems to be this affinity towards simplicity, I’m almost eager to see a breakaway from the standard story flow. On the other end of that, I think there have been a lot of other formats that have been very thoroughly explored in the past, and are subsequently more difficult to iterate on. For example, recent developments of immersive photo and video projects are getting harder and harder to top. Even incremental improvements on something that has kind of plateaued, has been monumental in the development of the overall digital storytelling experience.

What things have you seen that you might take back to your own organization?
The things I would like to take back to Facebook are things I’ve noticed are missing, for example, video submissions lacking interactivity. How might we make video experiences more interactive? I think these questions are important, and require us to understand our audience before jumping to a solution. Ideas should be opportunities to solve problems.
I’d also like to explore how nonlinear storytelling can effectively exist on these platforms. Keeping in mind our audience’s inclination with quizzes and choose your own adventure stories, it’s important we offer a flexible experience that’s tailored to their needs.

What advice would you have for small news organizations trying to expand their digital platform?
I would say that the democratization that a lot of platforms offer, should be leveraged in a way that allow folks to tell stories that speak to the platform. At larger organizations and publications, you are seeing a lot of experimentation on these distributed platforms — and these are free tools. There is a place for user generated content that offers a more personal feel and makes you feel more connected to the story.

Ryan Murphy, Texas Tribune

“I think that a lot of the great pieces I’ve come across while judging this year are a result of someone being brave enough to pitch a crazy idea.”

RyanMurphy2What have you found to be new, novel or different about this year’s entries?
I think one of the things I really appreciated is seeing more collaboration between designers and developers. There are many things I noticed that wouldn’t have been possible if both sides weren’t willing to contribute and work towards the same goal. I think it’s a great sign of figuring out what’s possible when it comes to digital design and working with new platforms.

Where do you think the state of digital design is?
We’re familiar with templated frameworks for digital storytelling, but we are also learning to navigate these different platforms while maintaining creative and artistic freedom. It’s a balancing act.

What things have you seen that you might take back to your own organization?
The main idea I want to bring back is that we should take more risks. I think that a lot of the great pieces I’ve come across while judging this year are a result of someone being brave enough to pitch a crazy idea. I think that comes back to being able to balancing the organization’s standards, while also making the choice to push beyond and think outside the box.

What advice would you have for small news organizations trying to expand their digital platform?
Thinking in a similar context, the ideas that seem crazy or impressive that larger organizations are doing, shouldn’t off the table. You might be smaller, and it might take you a little longer, but acknowledge the fact that you can tackle something that seems more extravagant. Be inspired. Get people on board and make it happen.

Jason Chiu, Globe and Mail

JasonChiuWhat have you found to be new, novel or different about this years entries?
The use of social and video assets to both amplify and tell visual stories is a real evolution in storytelling.

Where do you think the state of digital design is?
Digital design continues to break new ground by the award winners and leaders in the industry. These organizations set the bar on how to employ new tools, assets and techniques.

What advice would you have for small news organizations trying to expand their digital platform?
Stick to the basics, pick your moments, tell your own story and not someone else’s.

Steve Duenes, New York Times

“Organizations are trying to meet different reader needs, which is leading to different kinds of innovation.”

steveduenesWhat have you found to be new, novel or different about this years entries?
I don’t know that anything shocked us tremendously. Maybe we were pleasantly reassured that there’s a lot of competition out there; a lot of strong work coming from small teams. It seems obvious that good work would come from organizations with many people and plentiful resources, but we saw very strong work from a number of small units. Some had established constraints for themselves, like graphics that don’t really extend beyond a single screen, and they were making that an advantage. Keeping things simple for readers who want to understand things efficiently.

Where do you think the state of digital design is?
It’s clearly in motion. Organizations are trying to meet different reader needs, which is leading to different kinds of innovation. In this contest, we saw strong examples of platform innovation, like Axios and their smart approach to brevity and aggregation, and we saw new kinds of visual stories from places like Reuters where they’re making use of all available image types as the basis for their investigative work.

What things have you seen that you might take back to your own organization
There was plenty of inspiring work. Again, Reuters stood out with their analytical projects that made use of CCTV footage and satellite imagery. The Globe and Mail was also impressive, with consistently-refined design across their platform and special projects. And The Washington Post had a great package of multimedia work covering last year’s inauguration.

What advice would you have for small news organizations trying to expand their digital platform?
There seem to be lessons in the two main baskets of strong work we encountered: platform innovation and storytelling excellence. Surprisingly, the text-based headline list that NPR publishes made it into the final discussions. It couldn’t be more simple, which came across to us as useful. Small organizations looking for ways to connect with readers might draw some inspiration from this presentation or Axios, one of the more innovative overall design projects we saw. And on the storytelling side, we saw plenty of good work from small teams focused on single-screen visualizations.

Joshua Penrod, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“More than ever, news orgs are focusing on how to reach their audience across an astonishing array of platforms and devices, and many are largely succeeding at optimizing content and design for smaller and smaller screens.”

JoshPenrodWhat do you think about this year’s work compared to previous?
The work continues to get better and more refined each year. Digital infographics and data projects are getting more ambitious than ever, and they’re succeeding at an impressively high level. In particular, I noticed a surge in alternate digital storyforms. Projects like ESPN’s Body Issue, the Washington Post’s How Many MLB Parks Have You Visited and the New York Times’ Women Are Making the Best Rock Music were a few that stood out most.

What have you found to be new, novel or different about this years entries?
A few news organizations in particular are really pushing the boundaries of digital storytelling. From this year’s competition, The New York Times organization portfolio stood out for its amazing consistency in its ability to combine multi-sensory media to tell the best story possible. Whether it was using social-media-supplied audio/video, staff audio/video, full-screen photography, beautiful mapping, elegant graphics and seamless motion, the Times continues to find ways to surprise its readers. The Reuters infographics portfolio stood out for its impressive topical depth and its precision in the service of providing readers with amazing clarity.

Where do you think the state of digital design is?
It seems healthier than it has ever been, as the number of entries in this competition has grown each of the past few years. The world’s best news organizations seem to be pushing their limits with every opportunity. More than ever, news orgs are focusing on how to reach their audience across an astonishing array of platforms and devices, and many are largely succeeding at optimizing content and design for smaller and smaller screens.

What things have you seen that you might take back to your own organization
Much stronger thinking and ambition around alternate story forms or storyforms that aren’t limited to longform stories with several hundred words.

What advice would you have for small news organizations trying to expand their digital platform?
It can be overwhelming to think about all of the possible disciplines that are involved in top-notch digital storytelling. One easy way to start is by honestly assessing your team’s digital storytelling skills and capabilities. Then, focus your team’s efforts on leveraging its biggest strengths. Once you feel like your team is able create visual digital stories readers respond well to (check your newsroom’s analytics) -— and your team’s confidence grows —— then start to experiment with scaling additional skills that you think can drive traffic.