Can Journalism Be Entertainment? The 'New York Times' Thinks So
The New York Times is moving into the television space with its new show, The Weekly.
The venerable newspaper has already expanded into podcasting with its popular and lucrative show, The Daily, but now it's going visual, too.
The TV endeavor was the subject of a SXSW panel yesterday. Featured panelists included Liz Day (story editor), Sam Dolnick (assistant managing editor at the New York Times), Caitlin Dickerson (New York Times reporter) and Sweta Vohra (producer for The Weekly). Brian Stelter, CNN correspondent, acted as moderator.
The television show has landed at FX with a streaming deal on Hulu. It will air half-hour episodes on Sunday nights, putting it head-to-head with more established news programs like 60 Minutes.
The Weekly aims to set itself apart by focusing on characters, narratives and suspense while also teaching viewers something new about the world, diving deeper into stories that are already being developed in their newsroom. And instead of hosts, the show will follow different New York Times reporters as they work on stories every week. The SXSW panelists promised to provide the same rigorous reporting that they believe is standard at the paper.
Dolnick said the team spent months shooting small pilots to use as proofs of concept before pitching the show to FX. Now they are relying on the network heavily to help them through the television side of the project. He said the stories will get heavy edits, since both the New York Times and FX executives will have a hand in shaping the episodes.
Dickerson said the show is an effort to "bring you guys into the room," meaning the audience, using visual impact to help tell stories rather than trying to convey emotions and weight with words alone.
The panelists repeated multiple times that characters will be the focus of the series, and the action and narratives around them will provide the hook. This will not be a show about the process of reporting, they said, because The Fourth Estate on Showtime has already done that.
Dolnick suggested that every big news organization will soon be trying to expand in similar ways into new media, and will be figuring out their voices, what is most profitable and what will help bring journalism to bigger audiences. It was interesting to hear the panelists discuss hard news in terms of storytelling elements. The goal seems to make news commercial and palatable.
What do you think about the concept of news-as-drama? Will you watch The Weekly?
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.