Home > Journalism, Multimedia > Must Read: NYT’s Talk of the Newsroom: 1 in 8 Million

Must Read: NYT’s Talk of the Newsroom: 1 in 8 Million

The New York Times defines 1 in 8 million as “an oral history project in which a different individual among New York City’s 8 million residents is profiled each week of 2009.” Metro editor Jodi Rudoren clarified, “The criteria for profile subjects are simple: Interesting person. Great talker. Never before mentioned in the NYT.”

The project has been stunning. Black and white photography complement strong gritty narratives one only wish they could capture on tape. But the real gem here is the unveiling of how many people it takes to produce the series. It should be something every magazine and newspaper editor takes into account: there is no one person who can do it all.

I would strongly recommend reading through the questions and answers this week, as a door is lifted off a backroom business so few understand. For starters check out this question and answer to how the slideshows are put together.

Copied From NYT’s Talk of the Newsroom
Q. I love the series and have watched all of them, many several times.

My questions are around the mechanics of creating the pieces. What comes first, the audio or the visual? How long is the usual interview? Is it edited down before the photos are taken? How long does Mr. Heisler spend with the subjects? As the scenes frequently go from night to day, I was wondering if it was all in one stretch or does the team revisit multiple times?

In the story on the corner drug store (Columbia Drugs), the tale involvded a hostage taking with “a kid” who — while held at gunpoint — picked the pocket(s) of his captors. How old was the “kid”?

Thanks for your insights. Keep the series going. I look forward to each new addition.
— Steven Lungley

Alexis Mainland: Steven, thanks for your questions.

Typically, the pictures for an audio slide show on our site are made before or during the recording of audio. That’s partly due to the deadline pressures of a daily news organization. The process of One in 8 Million is a little different and it has allowed us a more luxurious (I’m laughing as I type because I know my cohorts would not use that adjective to describe the process) production schedule. For One in 8, Todd Heisler doesn’t shoot any photographs until we’ve interviewed the subject and edited the tape down to a manageable length, about 4 to 10 minutes. This allows us to be sure a piece is going to work from an audio story standpoint before we pursue images. It also allows Todd to listen to the tape and get to know the character and the story before he and Meaghan Looram, the project’s picture editor, brainstorm photo situations. When everything goes right, I think this way of working helps us create the kind of intimate, cohesive pieces that we’re trying for.

Our taped interviews are usually around one hour long, give or take. But the producer almost always first conducts one or more pre-interviews with the subject on the phone or in person so that going into the taped interview we have a good idea of what the piece’s focus will be.

Seeking an accurate answer to your question about Todd’s time with subjects, I just spoke with him by phone. (He and Meaghan are looking forward to answering questions about the series’ photographs this week.) Todd meets with almost every subject at least twice. Instead of spending one long day with someone, he tries to divide his shoots into two or more sessions so that the subject can get gradually acquainted with him and so as to maximize the number of scenes that are available to be photographed. That being said, some stories are more easily captured in fewer sessions because of the singularity of the storyline — take The Sneaker Connoisseur, for example — and some clearly require multiple scenes to capture the narrative, like The Medical Tourist.

I put your last question about The Corner Druggist to Sarah Kramer, who produced this story. She said that the “kid” Joel Karp refers to was a young boy from the neighborhood, one of many who hung out in and around the drugstore back in the day.

– NYT 1 in 8 Million

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Categories: Journalism, Multimedia
  1. Wendy
    August 4, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I agree, this has been a wonderful project! It’s good to be reminded about what it takes to produce quality.

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