The 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil offered an opportunity for publishers to show off all the innovation they’ve been working on — especially for digital products. From artificial intelligence to direct contact with journalists, newspapers found ways to connect with readers on every level they could think of.
A huge part of Olympics reporting is statistics. Fun, snackable facts that can be generated and sent to websites and apps easily help build audience knowledge about different athletes and the way they compete. These stats also help build out long form articles and provide context for readers.
The Washington Post knows how important those quick and easy facts are for driving audiences to the publication. The paper created Heliograf, WaPo’s artificial intelligence software, that pushed statistics to WaPo’s website as well as social media accounts.
Jeremy Gilbert, head of new digital projects for WaPo talked to Recode about the newest technology.
“We’re not trying to replace reporters,” he told Recode. “We’re trying to free them up.”
The content is simple, straight forward knowledge that provides the reader scores, wins, losses and statistics about any one event.
The New York Times, meantime, utilized everyone’s favorite communication tool — basic SMS text messaging — to bring its readers closer to the action. Deputy Sports Editor, Sam Manchester had a phone equipped to send personal dispatches, photos and GIFs from Rio. He also invited readers to ask questions and share their reactions with him during the events. A limited number of people were eligible to sign up for personal communication with Manchester.
Just before the opening ceremony in Rio, NYT took the opportunity to release its newest virtual reality film entitled, "The Modern Games." The film took viewers through time to some of the most iconic Olympic moments. The film featured narration by David Goldblatt, author of "The Games: A Global History of the Olympics," and offered aerial views of Rio’s beaches and mountains. Viewers were also treated to on-the-ground glimpses into Rio’s Olympic Stadium.
On its website, NYT created a section dubbed The Fine Line — Olympics: Rio de Janeiro 2016. The series featured video, text and motion capture graphics to gain a deeper understanding of the athletic feats of gymnast Simone Biles and high jumper Derek Drouin, among others.
The Wall Street Journal created a mini-game dubbed Armchair Olympian, that tests a users ability at different Olympic skills. The games include sprinting, rowing, long jump, archery and synchronized swimming. In my house, we boften discussed how difficult it sometimes was to gauge how fast an Olympian was running or swimming, just by watching. With limited knowledge of certain sports, it was sometimes challenging to engage and appreciate the technical skill that goes into winning a medal. WSJ’s game — written by Max Cohen, created by Stuart A. Thompson with illustrations by Jessica Kuronen, sought to point out the level of difficulty and precision these athletes attain and offer a small virtual glimpse of understanding for WSJ readers.
Social media once again proved an integral element in covering the live games. While Facebook was the main social platform used to share official content before the event, Instagram became the go-to favorite during the 2016 Rio Games, according to ComScore.
The findings showed that during July, 40 percent of total actions on the Rio 2016 Facebook page were generated by posts containing videos but, once the games started, posts with photos took precedence, ComScore said. Further, 63 percent of official Rio 2016 social content was posted on Facebook during July. However, according to ComScore, Instagram was responsible for 72 percent of the total actions on Rio 2016 social networks during the same month.
The Olympics presented an excellent opportunity for newspapers to show off their graphic skills, innovation and technology. As Joseph Lichterman for Nieman Lab points out, “(The Olympics) is 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.”
He went on to say that the result is newspapers have plenty of time to plan coverage and build products.
We are looking forward to the innovation that comes out during the fall election season as well.
If I didn’t see the amazing thing that your paper did to cover The Games and athletes, please let me know. I would love to hear about it.