The Next Chapter

As announced last week, I’m joining the interactive studio Second Story in Portland, Oregon, resigning as multimedia editor of The New York Times. I appreciate the kind notes from friends and colleagues.

The decision to leave The Times doesn’t come easy. I’ve been in journalism for 22 years, the past six of which have been at The Times. And I’ve had the honor to work alongside some of the smartest journalists in the industry. I’m particularly proud of the team I put together and managed over the years and of our work, which includes some of the most innovative and compelling packages of interactive journalism on the web.

It’s difficult to imagine going anywhere else in the industry after The New York Times. I’ve always known that my time at The Times would be the pinnacle of my journalism career. But I’m now at my “adjacent possible,” Stuart Kauffman’s fabulous theory of untapped potential, or as Steven Johnson describes it:

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. 
How do you reinvent yourself after holding such a high-profile position in the news industry? In my case, I return to where it started:

The story begins at Chicago Comdex in 1996 when I was on a panel showing our interactive journalism from The Chicago Tribune; I was presenting what might have been one of the earliest interactive graphics. I was on the panel with Brad Johnson, who presented his early interactive work for National Geographic Society including Dinosaur Eggs and River Wild. Blown away, I introduced myself to Brad, who graciously handed me his business card - which was a floppy disc containing this project: Pinch. After picking up my jaw from the floor, I realized then how I wanted to raise the bar in visual journalism and interactive storytelling. (Incidentally, this was the same conference where someone also mentioned a new technology called FutureSplash, which eventually became Flash.)

Throughout my career, I’ve told interactive stories at The Chicago Tribune, launched verticals at Knight Ridder, pushed visual journalism and interaction design at The Poynter Institute, taught multimedia journalism at SFSU and founded Interactive Narratives. The culmination of all those years led to spearheading some of the best interactive narrative and multimedia storytelling at The New York Times.

I’ve kept in touch with Brad and Julie Beeler, founders of Second Story, over the years as their work continued to inspire me. And we have discussed my joining the studio in the past. But the timing didn’t click until now: We’re standing at the cusp of a digital redistribution made possible by rapidly changing narrative and journalistic possibilities. The disruption that is spreading across the media landscape - from journalism to documentaries to education to games - is affecting even philanthropic institutions whose mission is to support journalism.

I see this as a turning point and opportunity. There’s a space between the spectrum of traditional news media on one side and the unfiltered social web in another. This ecosystem will allow journalists, content creators and curators to surface relevant stories and information while context providers and audience will tell their personal connection to the narrative.

My joining Second Story aligns with the studio’s vision of connecting brands and institutions to their audiences through pioneering interactive experiences. Those experiences blend technology and storytelling not only across digital channels and public spaces but also in the digital/analog blurred reality. To borrow the words of Wayne Gretzky (and echoed by Steve Jobs):

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

I’m honored to join a great team of storytellers, technologists, engineers, filmmakers, visual artists and thinkers who have inspired me since that day in 1996. And by joining Second Story, I hope to help evolve the future of interactive stories and “elevate the art of storytelling.” This recent post, An Interview with Second Story, should further explain their more recent exploration into interactive storytelling.

I will miss my colleagues and partners in the newsroom, as well as those on the business side of The New York Times. My time here immensely defines my work and how we tell stories. And I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the tremendous reach and influence the position has afforded me.

The puck is going to an adjacent possible where the ecosystem for news is evolving. And Second Story is in a great position to shape and move that puck forward. In fact, a New York Times article wrote of the studio:
How it invents techniques to use these platforms, and who it recruits to do that work is a journey that large media companies should watch.
Keep watching…