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Live from SXSW: The future of news

The most thought-provoking SXSW session I attended yesterday featured Khoi Vinh, design director at the NYT.com and his boss, Tom Bodkin, a 27 year Times veteran.  They talked about their backgrounds — Tom an old-school graphic design pioneer and Khoi, artist and “post print” guru — and how their divergent perspectives inform the road they’re paving for how people get their news.  (SBoSM takeaway: consider bringing more experienced voices into your social media strategy meetings, even if they’re not up on the technologies. The vehicles are new but your products/messages aren’t and the added perspective can be magic.)

At NYT.com, they work under the assumption that the future of news will be a handful of global platforms (e.g. New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Guardian — my examples, not theirs) and a proliferation of micropublishers that deliver targeted news and information about personal passions and business interests (e.g. the 100+  SmartBriefs we publish daily).

The key word for NYT.com is platform.  Making the newspaper more “Webby” or making NYT.com look and act like the print edition would be counterproductive.  Instead, they’re focused on user behavior and going where readers are.  (Same thing SBoSM readers are doing!)  Tom and Khoi discussed advanced visualization prototypes and displays they’re working with (think Kindle and e-notebooks) and about how their design must be platform-agnostic.

They also showed us Times People (their crack at a social network), Times Extra (their aggregator of news from around the Web), Times Machine (an accessible archive of newspapers from the 18th and early 20th centuries.) Even more interesting, though, is the integration of video, slide shows and info graphics on NYT.com, especially in conjunction with in-depth investigative journalism.  Interactive maps and demographic displays no longer just support or illustrate the news.  Rather, they’re integral to telling the story.  So, interactivity is fundamentally changing the NYT product.  Now that’s some news.

SBoSM takeaway: don’t be afraid to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. There’s no prescribed playbook here.  Just like the New York Times, we’re all trying to figure out how to use these emerging technologies to our advantage.