Blumenthal ’96 discusses career in interactive journalism
When he graduated from Yale, Scott Blumenthal assumed he would pursue a career in the theater. Now a deputy editor on the Interactive News desk at The New York Times, the alumnus spoke about his circuitous path to the Times and how older forms of media can remain competitive in the new digital media landscape at a Pierson College tea on Feb. 16.
Blumenthal graduated from Yale in 1996 as a theater major. He worked on and off as a professional actor for 10 years, but needed a way to support himself when parts were scarce.
“I arrived in New York at the beginning of the first dotcom boom, so I got jobs in HTML, figuring out how to put stuff on the internet,” Blumenthal said of his early post-graduation years. After his son was born, he took a full-time job in web development.
After working for a venture tangentially related to digital news production, Blumenthal landed an opportunity at The New York Times to infuse its online site with high-quality digital content. When reporters want an interactive feature to go with their story, they work with Blumenthal and his colleagues at the Interactive Desk.
For example, on Dec. 30, 2016, Blumenthal published an interactive “choose your foods” quiz in which readers chose from popular food items for three meals and learned how much added sugar they would consume if they ate those meals. The quiz was part of a feature story a Times reporter wrote on the dangers of consuming too much added sugar and the lengths to which food companies go to conceal sugar additives.
“There’s a lot of effort that goes into making it ‘Times-ian,’” Blumenthal said, noting the paper’s reputation for high-quality reporting. During the 2016 presidential election, for instance, Blumenthal and his colleagues worked all night updating interactive maps of not only the presidential race, but congressional races across the country as well. The maps added a visual component to the paper’s exhaustive print coverage of the day.
When not working on special features like elections or the sugar quiz, Blumenthal works on projects the average reader might not notice, like updating the old format for quizzes. As a web developer, however, he notes that “figuring out how to tell the story is the hardest part — the technical stuff is easy.”
Blumenthal emphasized that this story-telling will be the driving force that keeps the paper competitive in the digital age — flashy technical features will only get the Times so far, he said.
“It’s difficult because there are so many resources out there, many of which are free, with the same content. So there’s effort to make sure our platform is better, more elegant, and more fun than the others. But that won’t really do it in the end — I think it will come down to the depth and voice of our reporting,” Blumenthal said.