Yesterday, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson finished their historic free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite Natonal Park. It’s a story that I got sucked into following almost exclusively via The New York Times, about which, a few thoughts.
I first encountered the story when the Times ran this piece about the quest on the bottom of A1 on Monday, January 5. At this point, the expedition had been on the wall for about a week, having arrived at the toughest part of the climb. It felt like a good, quirky choice for an A1 story: the right mix of quixotic quest with heroic sheen. I followed the climbers on Instagram and Twitter, figuring this would be about the last I’d read of the quest in the Times, or any mainstream media.
Wrong. From there out, the Times went full court crazy on the story of Caldwell and Jorgenson. Tuesday, January 6, a detailed piece on the front page of the sports section. Thursday, January 8, back on A1 (the story that birthed the famous “Kyrgyzstan, not Kyrzbekistan” correction). Friday, January 9, an op-ed on “Climbing and Tweeting.”
On Saturday, January 10, the print edition of the Times sports section gave over nearly the entire front page to a graphic of the Dawn Wall, and the pair’s route up it. Here’s when the digital side of the Times really dove into the story, creating an interactive graphic of the Dawn Wall, complete with scrollable photo illustrations. Yesterday, the interactive team was at it again, creating a zoomable photo of the Dawn Wall to track the climb’s progress. And twice more this week, the story would wind up back on A1, including a photo today of the successful climbers summiting the ridge.
Now, I’m probably one of the few people left who reads the Times in print every day, but the frequency with which this very soft news story hit A1 blew my mind. Howell Raines, the Executive Editor who popularized the phrase “flooding the zone” — a concept we used liberally at Curbed, and still teach to our editors — would be proud. Yeah, don’t get me wrong: I completely support and encourage good zone flooding in general, and think the Times nailed it here. I got sucked into a story I wouldn’t otherwise care about as it carried along for two weeks.
Also of note is the exceptional work of the Times interactive team, which I think sets the bar on the web right now for interactive storytelling experiences. That the organization can get zone-flood buy-in across print and digital is impressive. Makes me think about how we can flood the zone even harder on the stories that matter to us at Vox.