The New York Times's Next 'Snow Fall' Is About Horse Racing

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'Snow Fall,' the multimedia extravaganza of a longform article that went viral for the New York Times last December, has a sequel of sorts in 'The Jockey,' a 10,000-word profile of jockey Russell Baze that hopes to parlay the inherent tension of 'Snowfall's' disaster narrative with the suspense of racing horses. 

While the Times has, since 'Snow Fall,' taken longer projects and given them a multimedia treatment, 'The Jockey' about eight months later, looks like an intentional match in effort and ambition to the earlier project. And that gap makes sense: stories take months to complete, both as a work of journalism and as a multimedia package. While 'Snow Fall' might be popular, beautiful, and something of a fantasy for those thinking about the future of journalism, they're rarified by the process that creates them

Here's how the written piece begins: 

Russell Baze, the ironman of thoroughbred racing — Lou Gehrig on a saddle — was about to ride in his 50,000th start, an astonishing milestone that by happenstance put him aboard an undistinguished filly. The horse, Finish Rich in Nyc, had not won in nearly a year. “She’s not the one I would have picked for the occasion,” the jockey remarked dryly.

At 55, Baze is near the outside edge of even a durable rider’s working life span. People credit this longevity to his avoidance of serious injury, which may seem an odd thing to say of a man who has broken his cervical spine, pelvis, tailbone and collarbone and suffered multiple compression fractures in his back and neck. 

Like 'Snow Fall,' the story incorporates the act of scrolling into the multimedia content itself. 'The Jockey,' however, relies a bit more on full-screen video, with fewer moving sidebars or sprawling animations visible simultaneously as the text. In the newest piece, paragraphs freeze in space as the screen darkens to launch a video on Baze, which include super slo-mo shots of horses in motion that would please any Edward Muybridge fan, interviews with the 55-year-old Baze, a visual breakdown of the physical  toll Baze's career choice has taken on his body, and a jockey-view camera. 

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Despite the subject and style differences, the comparisons to 'Snow Fall' were instant: 

And while one might be inclined to react with skepticism to the Snowfall-Jockey association — they are, after all, just two multimedia-heavy longform pieces of journalism that happen to come from the same shop — the Times itself is drawing that comparison, and apparently applied some lessons from one directly to the other: how to sell ad space. Back in December, the Atlantic Wire noted how few ads there were in 'Snow Fall,' which relied on a completely different setup from the paper's normal site. That's changed: look in the upper right-hand corner of 'The Jockey.' See it? The whole thing is sponsored by BMW. Scroll through, and the ads are all over the place, built into the layout. The Times even told AdAge about their new strategy, which included matching up BMW with the story thematically:

[executive director of the Times Idea Lab Tracy Quitasol] said the Times approached several companies about advertising in "The Jockey." BMW signed on and was kept in the dark about certain elements of the story: The company didn't initially know when it would be published, what it would look like, or even exactly how the ads would render...The marketer did know the story's subject, which was one of the reasons it decided to buy the ads, according Tom Penich, media communications manager, BMW North America. Horse racing ties into an overall performance theme that BMW is trying to capture, Mr. Penich said. 

While it looks like the paper may have the ad issue sorted, the jury's still out on whether the piece will catch on like 'Snow Fall' did. In any case, the whole piece is worth a read — and a watch. Do that here

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.