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Aug. 8, 2016, 3:15 p.m.
Reporting & Production

These are some of the coolest experiments in digital news coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics

We’ll be updating this list throughout the Olympics, so send us your favorites.

The Olympics are, like the quadrennial U.S. presidential election, the perfect opportunity for news organizations to experiment with new ways to present news online. The Games are a massive story, but the stakes are typically relatively low, and, perhaps most importantly, the date of the event is known years ahead of time. As a result, outlets have plenty of time to plan coverage and build out interactives.

“A lot of the more ambitious projects we do for this type of coverage we do months and months before the actual event,” New York Times sports editor Jason Stallman told me in 2014. (We were discussing the Times’ coverage of the 2014 World Cup, but the principle holds for the Olympics.)

He continued: “It’s to try and offer as much variety as possible, understanding that for an event like this you have a lot of different people coming at it from a lot of different perspectives, and experiences, and interests — so variety is key.”

With that in mind, and with the Rio Games well underway — I’m watching Brazil and Japan play in the women’s rugby ninth-place match as I type this — we decided to compile a list of some of the coolest digital news experiments around the Olympics.

The list is by no means complete, so please let us know (in the comments or on Twitter) what we’ve missed. We’ll be updating the list throughout the Olympics. (Updated Aug. 15)

The New York Times

How Bolt won: Usain Bolt won his third consecutive gold medal in the 100 meter sprint on Sunday, finishing the race in (a comparatively slow) 9.81 seconds. The Jamaican fell behind from the start, but he ultimately took the lead around the 60-meter mark. To show how Bolt overtook the competition and won the race, the Times created a mobile-friendly panoramic graphic that shows a second-by-second breakdown of the race.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 12.54.53 PM

On mobile and desktop, users can scroll through the shot to see how the race progressed, and in many ways it tells the story of Bolt’s win in a more concise and straightforward way than a traditional 700-word article.

  • Texting with readers: The Times is experimenting with sending SMS updates to readers throughout the Games. The Lab’s Ricardo Bilton has more details:

    Over the next three weeks, deputy sports editor Sam Manchester, one of dozens of Times reporters reporting from Brazil, will send readers periodic updates from the games. These won’t be generic news alerts, though. Manchester plans to give each of the 3 to 4 daily updates a personal touch, opting for smartphone snapshots, GIFs, emoji, and the kind personal tone people expect from texting.

  • How’d they do that?: We all know that Olympians are capable of impressive feats, but what exactly makes them so spectacular? The Times looked at four athletes in gymnastics, swimming, high jump, and triple jump, and built an interactive that explained how they excel in their sports.

  • Getting around the GIF ban: On the eve of the Opening Ceremony, the International Olympic Committee made waves by prohibiting non-authorized users from posting GIFs of the Olympics.

    That was no bother for the Times. The paper’s graphics desk found new ways to illustrate the competitions with GIFs:

  • The Washington Post

  • Bots: The Washington Post is using bots to write certain Olympic stories. “In no way do we want to replace human reporters with automated reporters,” Post director of strategic initiatives Jeremy Gilbert told Poynter. “We want to free up reporters to do the kind of high-impact stories they want to do.”

    Here are more details from Poynter:

    Heliograf, a tool developed by The Washington Post’s engineering team, will use data and language templates to generate automatic briefs on medal tallies, event schedules and competition results for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Those briefs will be fed into The Washington Post’s main Olympics liveblog, which will also be home to stories written by the newspaper’s sports reporters.

    The updates will also be shared by The Washington Post’s Twitter bot, @WPOlympicsbot, its Facebook Messenger bot and accessible on Alexa-enabled devices.

  • How big is that?: Many Olympic sports enter the public consciousness only once every four years during the Games. While there are certainly handball fans out there, it’s safe to assume that most Americans don’t follow the sport closely. To help put these sports in perspective, the Post built an interactive that lets users compare the size of different types of equipment and playing fields. (At 7.5 inches in diameter, a handball is about half the size of a large pizza.)

  • The Guardian

  • Experimenting with push alerts: Our pals at The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab have been experimenting with push notifications for the past few months. They’re now using the Olympics as a vehicle to try some new things such as daily medal leaderboards, alerts for specific countries, polls, and quizzes.

    Here’s what the Mobile Innovation Lab is trying to figure out:

    — How people respond to web notifications that last more than 1-2 days
    — How people interact with a fairly complex signup page for notifications
    — How to create individual alert subscriptions on-the-fly for multiple countries
    — If the morale meter encourages people to follow our event-based live blogs
    — If people enjoy taking a quiz through notifications

  • An interactive podcast: The Guardian has developed RioRun, an interactive podcast that is encouraging users to walk or run the length of the Rio marathon — 26.2 miles — over the course of the Games. As users progress through the course, Guardian journalists and others will share tidbits about Rio, the Olympics, and offer tips for running:

    We’ll take you on a virtual audio tour of Rio from wherever you are, following the route of the 2016 Olympic marathon. What you hear will depend on how far you run and how fast. Your distance will unlock new audio segments at key moments along the marathon route, so the further you go, the more you’ll discover.


    The Wall Street Journal

  • Armchair Olympian: Do you have what it takes to be an Olympian? You may not be able to land a dive off of the 10-meter platform or land the Produnova vault, but The Wall Street Journal has created interactives to see how you stack up in other disciplines.

    The Armchair Olympian game lets users test their timing in skills related to sprinting, rowing, and the long jump. Archery and synchronized swimming games are yet to come.

    Photo of the U.S. Olympic team entering the Opening Ceremony by Tim Hipps/IMCOM Public Affairs used under a Creative Commons license.

  • POSTED     Aug. 8, 2016, 3:15 p.m.
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