By MORGAN SEARLES, Dow Jones News Fund Business Intern
Hampton University grad moves from print writing to digital and changes as she helps The Times change to improve business model
NEW YORK — Under the storied flag of The New York Times, one facet of new journalism is guided by truth, human experience and one woman’s eye for absorbing imagery.
Whitney Richardson is a 28-year-old producer for Lens, The Times’ photo blog, which has been spreading visual journalism for five years. The blog appeals to an extensive audience, attracting up to 1 million visitors every month.
Every day, as stacks of photographers’ submissions come in, Richardson helps to sift through the images and select the right ones for posts. She contacts artists, writes about the photographs and builds posts around images. The Lens team also includes two co-editors, James Estrin and David Gonzales.
Richardson, who became Lens’ producer in March, gave the 2014 Dow Jones News Fund business reporting internship class a tour of The New York Times during the fund’s weeklong business residency training program. She works to build a greater online presence as a part of The Times’ evolving business model to gain readership and viewers.
Richardson said she’s attracted to “good work that comes out of self-exploration” and issues surrounding personal identity.
This preference could be influenced by her personal story. A native of Stone Mountain, Georgia, Richardson graduated from Hampton University with a degree in print journalism.
Shortly after she finished college, she sold her ’86 Honda Civic, bought a Nikon D40x and moved to New York City with the idea of documenting a diverse group of young people and posting her work on Tumblr.
But working with high-caliber photographs every day has made Richardson more critical of the art. She chooses not to share her personal work much anymore, instead channeling her photography fixation through Lens. She focuses on honest storytelling and representing artists in the most accurate way possible.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at that as I’ve done more and more reporting, writing and interviewing people,” Richardson said. “It’s just trusting my instincts, and if something doesn’t feel right, I won’t do it. I won’t write it. I’ll rethink why it’s making me feel weird. And I always trust my instincts because when I don’t, I’ve always been disappointed.”
One such case of disappointment came after Richardson wrote a story last year for The Times about her changing relationship with her mother, Ann Marie Boyd-Doyle. Friends and family gave her positive feedback, but it wasn’t enough. Richardson knew she’d left out important pieces of her story, and this perceived failure still influences her drive for authenticity and a personal connection in all aspects of her writing.
“Because I study my work so closely, I can see a difference in how people respond to my work now than they did before,” Richardson said. “I feel like I’m freer when I write. I can be writing about something super intense, but I let go more, and I try to just figure out what the story is trying to say, and I’ll just say it.”
The media landscape is changing, thanks to a person such as Richardson, who also curates social media for The Times’ photo department. Her efforts can’t be viewed in today’s issue of the paper. Her goal isn’t to land content on the front page.
However, Richardson is successfully engaging creators and consumers in the new media market. She upholds the integrity of The Times while consistently appealing to a fickle online audience through strict personal guidelines and considerate curating.
( A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, MORGAN SEARLES is a May 2014 graduate of the Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication. She is a 2014 Dow Jones News Fund business reporting member, and she is working as a reporter at Patch.com in New York City this summer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @MorganSearles on Twitter)
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