First person series engages readers through new media

Subhead: David Rohdes, New York Times journalist, relates his experiences as a Taliban prisoner in Pakistan.

The New York Times published a five-part series entitled “Held by the Taliban” written by David Rohdes, who was kidnapped and held by the Taliban for over seven months between 2008 and 2009.

The series, unlike standard journalistic works, was told in the first person. The “I” of the story however, was quite powerful, relating the struggles of prisoners in a foreign area through the personal attribution. The primary source of information was also the person behind the words. Though this might be viewed as biased, it does add something that usually lacks in everyday newspaper articles: life.

Furthermore, the online series used various media elements, including videos, a blog, and a Web page devoted to the readers’ comments, to contribute to the story and its content.

Though traditional journalism has not fully embraced the idea of convergence, The New York Times proved that its usage is indeed worthwhile. Not only was the story read and or listened to, but over 150 comments were posted on the first part of the series.

The videos used maps and pictures in order to enhance the story’s content and the reader’s comprehension. Without these videos, some might read the stories and not fully understand the importance and differences in locations of Rohdes’ environment. The articles are quite long, and because reading has become such an outdated form of communication, these videos are quite perfect for those who only want the basic information or the overview of the story.

For those readers who also had comments to publish, a question and answer blog was created. The blog was dedicated to answering questions that subscribers posted. Though Rohdes primarily answered these questions, Bill Keller, executive editor, was also involved.

This last element is crucial to online journalism. It provides the newspaper with rapid feedback, a strength of online communication. There is dialogue between provider and consumer; therefore, any misunderstandings can be effectively clarified. Moreover, readers feel a more personal connection to the story and are willing to spend more time learning about the issues involved.

The most essential piece of traditional journalism, photographs, served the same purpose in this series. They helped bring life to the story (and added color to the long pages of text for each article, of course).

Newspapers cannot do this with print editions. However, this statement is not a blow to traditional journalism. The purpose behind journalism remains essentially the same: to present necessary and significant information to the public.

If convergence is necessary to push the public to absorb this information, then by all means, it should be used. The New York Times knows this and is pushing these elements to an entirely new level.

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