Our team’s first big editorial project at The Washington Post: A collaboration with the finance desk for a detailed look at teen shopping

Back in January, I got this really cool e-mail over the weekend from Sandy Sugawara, who is the AME for financial news at The Washington Post. Sandy’s note basically recalled a conversation she had with her 13-year-old daughter and her friends about shopping and how stores like Abercrombie, The Gap, Hollister and even Nordstrom must be doing.

Sandy was impressed with not only how perceptive they were, but how — in many ways — what they were saying was right on with what was really happening with those businesses.

From there, we exchanged e-mails on how we could try to tell a story like this, had a basic planning meeting — and what came out of it is one of our team’s first major editorial projects at The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com.

Here’s the basic premise of the story: What can we learn about a ton of different things when we follow a bunch of economically and ethnically diverse kids through one of the nation’s biggest malls on a single Saturday afternoon?

Outside of a hurricane in Florida and a national championship basketball game in Lawrence, I’m not sure our team has ever been involved in a project of this scope with this much planning and so many moving parts.

And I’m positive we’ve never been a part of basically a single-day story that had so many people involved from so many different departments.

Just to get an idea, look at this list of folks involved in this project from The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com:

From The Washington Post: Lori Aratani, Lisa Bonos, Denny Brack, Andrea Bruce, Andrea Caumont, Sara Goo, Kim Hart, Marvin Joseph, Kathy Lally, Norm Lewis, Melina Mara, Ylan Mui, David Murray, Giuliana Santoro, Laura Stanton, Sandy Sugawara, Nancy Szokan, Sabrina Valle and Karen Yourish.

From Washintonpost.Newsweek Interactive: Levi Chronister, Emmy Crawford, Rob Curley, Alicia Cypress, Katie DePaola, Amanda Finnegan, Jesse Foltz, Adam Hemphill, Deryck Hodge, Garrett Hubbard, Adam Kipple, Cara McCoy, Lindsay McCullough, Chris McMichael, Kevin Myrick, Tim Richardson, Bill Snead, Matt Sollars, Sean Stoops and Jinae West.

(From my camera phone, here’s what it looked like when we were all at Tysons Corner Center on Saturday, May 19.)

Those carrying lots and lots of water included the project’s lead reporter Ylan Mui, our “new products team” editor Tim Richardson and our “new products team” graphics developer Jesse Foltz.

And you wouldn’t believe how much data was crunched by Post business section graphics editor Karen Yourish, or how much behind-the-scenes stuff was being done by Andrea Caumont, as well as by the project’s main print editor, Kathy Lally.

What really impressed me was that even at a news organization with the resources of The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com, everyone associated with this project — including those who rank pretty dang high in The Post newsroom — worked hard and put in long hours. There were so many late nights (and early mornings) by so many people, and so many late-night phone calls and e-mails, and so many people working on their days off, that I was blown away by it all.

At the other (much, much smaller) newspapers I’ve worked at, when there was a big project, the only way to get it all done was if everyone associated with the project worked a ton of extra hours. And, for whatever reason, I guess I was a little surprised that was exactly how it worked at The Post, as well!

Well, duh … Of course, this is how it works at The Washington Post!

The reason these folks are all at The Post is because they’re super-talented journalists, but also because they’re also super-motivated journalists … that’s what makes them journalists at The Washington Post!

I’ve never seen reporters/photographers/editors/designers at any news organization I’ve ever been at work as hard and as long as what I saw on this project. It was incredible and inspiring.

On the Saturday we were all at the Tysons Corner Center mall, The Post newsroom had more than a dozen staff members there. Along with reporters and editors, there were four photograpers and five videographers.

But the crazy work happened when we all got back to the office on the following Monday.

All 61 kids had been interviewed, taken post-shopping surveys and had filled out another survey after every store they visited. All of those notes had to be compiled and tons of spreadsheets were built. And Karen Yourish did a lot of that work.

More than 1,700 photos were taken.

More than five hours of video had been shot.

With more than 10 kids mic’ed up as they shopped that day, and every word being recorded, over 30 hours of audio clips had to be listened to and edited.

When it was all put together on washingtonpost.com, here is what it looked like.

The stories by Ylan Mui and the rest of the reporters on the finance desk at The Washington Post are killer. When the project ran in this morning’s newspaper, there were seven stories that were part of the package.

Here is a look at the multimedia elements on washingtonpost.com for this project:

+++ The Map +++

I don’t even want to know how many hours our team’s graphics genius Jesse Foltz spent building this map. As a matter of fact, I’m guessing no one wants to know.

The map documents every store that any of our 61 shoppers visited.

When you click on a store, you can see an overview of the store, how many of the kids visited the store and the amount of money they spent, quotes from kids who talked about the store in their interviews, audio clips from the kids, photos of the kids in the store, and video.

You can even toggle through the different floors of the mall.

Really cool stuff, and a ton of information.

+++ The Video +++

In building the video component for this story, Tim Richardson worked closely with Ylan to find the clips they felt really augmented the print story.

They wanted a video piece that would really complement the journalism in print, not repeat it.

So, with video shot by the mostly untrained members of our “new products team” — along with some help from friend and former Naples Daily News colleague Garrett Hubbard — they put it together (with Tim doing all of the editing), and even went back to the mall to shoot some intro and segue pieces with Ylan to help pull things together.

And I love the results of this sort of collaboration.

+++ Teen Profile Pages +++

So that we could know more details about how teens shop and, more importantly, think about shopping, we had a group of seven teens who we had fill out a daily online survey that was built by our “new products team” programmer Deryck Hodge.

We also had photographer extraordinaire (and good friend) Bill Snead take portraits of each of these kids. Along with some additional reporting by Tim Richardson, Cara McCoy and Levi Chronister, Jesse Foltz then made Flash animations of each portrait, in which you can mouse over different elements in the photos to see what they are, how much they cost, and if there was some interesting story behind them.

Jesse Foltz also built a map of each of these kid’s trip through the mall on the day that we were there. You can see every story they visited, how long they were in each store, and what (if anything) they bought.

And finally, Tim Richardson shot and built the 360-degree steerable panoramic photos of each kid’s room so you could get a better glimpse of their tastes, etc…

You can see all of that here.

+++ The Photos +++

As I mentioned earlier, on our big shopping day at Tysons Corner, there were four Washington Post photographers there to document it.

They took more than 1,700 photos. Then the visual-journalism team at washingtonpost.com (particularly Lindsay McCullough, along with some help from WPNI designer Adam Kipple) built three very nice galleries.

+++ Live Online Chat +++

To top it all off, Ylan Mui worked to schedule several live online chats on washingtonpost.com to coincide with the project. Up until the moment the live chats began on our site, Ylan was working to try to get chats scheduled with several different companies.

On Monday, she ended up doing a chat along with retail analyst Marshal Cohen and Bloomingdale’s spokeswoman Donna Hamaker to discuss teen shopping behavior.

Here is a transcript of that chat.


So, what did it all look like in print?

Well, it looked amazing! We got to work closely with finance desk graphics designer Laura Stanton and Karen Yourish, who pulled together all of the research for the big double-truck graphic that ran in the business section.

We also got to work with Washington Post deputy art director Dennis Brack, who laid out the pages.

The front page of The Washington Post had this *huge* key/refer as the centerpiece this morning:

Here is what the Business section front looked like this morning:

And here are some of the inside pages:

Bill Snead’s portraits of the selected teens were supposed to only run online, but the print designers liked them so much that they integrated them into the print layout:

And then there was the *huge* double-truck graphic, which just looks amazing.

This teen project also was referenced in the print edition of The Express, which is a free daily paper published by The Washington Post for commuters.


More thoughts on this project …

Ylan began laying the groundwork for this project in February. She called school groups, the Girls Scouts, and numerous other organizations to assemble a group of diverse teenagers for this project. There were also several meetings with management at the mall in the weeks leading up to the project to figure out the logistics.

Tim Richardson worked closely with her, but it was Ylan’s ability to put together the group of teens (and get all the permission stuff taken care of) that was really impressive. She was uber-organized through it all.

In my opinion, this project was a textbook example of how print and online should collaborate on a project from the very beginning.

In the past, our team has worked on stories in which we were alerted midway through the project that there might be cool online components to help pull it all together. Being alerted late in the game often requires duplication of work and isn’t the most efficient way to gather content to tell a story.

Yet, I can’t even count how many times we’ve done it. When we were in Topeka, Lawrence and Naples, I couldn’t count how many times either Tim or Dave Toplikar (our online M.E. in Lawrence) re-interviewed people so that we could have audio of the people interviewed for the story.

With this project, editors and reporters with The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com worked together every step of the way — and I think this comes through in the final result. I think all of the print and multimedia components really work well together to help better tell the story.

Plus, I think one of the huge upsides was that many of the print journalists involved with this project seemed to have real ownership (even some degree of pride) in the new-media components, which I think is part of the reason all this project’s online components got the play they received in the print edition.

It was a ton of fun to work on this project!

Published by


Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.