Take a step back to look to the future

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at how our journalism comes together. In 2018,...


Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at how our journalism comes together.

In 2018, despite the recent publication of a series of articles New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman felt dissatisfied with how climate change was challenging cities around the world that were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

He wanted more. He wanted to find a way to explore the variety of intersecting challenges – such as immigration and housing affordability – that the world’s urban centers face, and how addressing these issues could enable social progress. and economical.

So he approached Joseph Kahn, the editor of The Times, with a pitch: I want to take a step back from the news cycle and consider how the challenges facing communities around the world will shape their future. A few years later, that idea became the mission behind Headway, a new Times initiative that uses journalism to assess the progress the world has made toward large-scale goals and questions what progress even means.

“Especially in the past few years, there has been both a relentlessness of bad news and a difficulty in breaking out of the 24-hour news cycle,” said Mr. Kimmelman, who is Headway’s editor. “There is an appetite for another conversation at another pace.”

In Headway’s first article, published in December, Kimmelman examined the battle to protect Lower Manhattan from rising seas through the lens of climate resilience. The article was part of Headway’s first series, “Hindsightwhich tracked predictions from past decades to see if the goals had been met. Five of the articles in the series included a multiple-choice question that asked readers to rate global progress on long-term goals, such as controlling the spread of HIV or reducing carbon emissions, that needed to be achieved. by 2021. (Results may inspire future Headway projects.)

“I was surprised at how pessimistic people were,” said Matt Thompson, editor of Headway. “They responded assuming the worst case scenario.” He said most readers only answered one out of five questions correctly.

But Mr. Thompson said he was not discouraged by the low rate of correct answers.

“The goal was to get people to look beyond their visions of how they expected the future to unfold,” he said.

Two additional retrospective articles – one on the divergent fortunes of wind and solar power in the United States and another on the urbanization of the Delhi megacity in India – were published online in January. They were accompanied by a letter from Mr. Thompson inviting readers to share their hopes, fears and expectations for 2022, to inform future Headway reporting projects. This month, the Headway team will begin rolling out longer stories, including one that explores efforts to protect a precious natural resource in Africa whose greatest value to humans depends on keeping it in the ground.

Vera Titunik, associate editor of Headway, said the team of reporters, editors and visual journalists, which is part of the Times Special Projects Group, led by Monica Drake, aims to publish about 10 to 12 major projects per year. She anticipates these will include 5,000 word long articles or ambitious visual journalism as well as shorter stories.

Because the initiative receives nonprofit funding from organizations such as the Ford Foundation, there is no paywall on Headway’s stories, Ms. Titunik said. “It’s the spirit that it’s open to everyone,” she said.

A crucial part of the Headway initiative – and which is still in the early stages of development – ​​is a community forum known as Public Square. The team plans to create a collaborative space for readers to exchange ideas on solutions to global challenges both online and through in-person debates and events. Headway hopes to hold the events at high schools, museums and universities across the country once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, Headway’s Public Square editor Terry Parris Jr. said.

“We want to reach as many people as possible, especially young people,” he said. “We want to step back and see how we can directly inject ourselves into communities that might not otherwise engage with us.”

In the coming years, the Headway team hopes to explore topics such as the inefficiency of the global waste cycle, the effectiveness of rewilding, the effort to conserve and restore natural physical resources, and innovative ways that cities of the United States have tried to tackle homelessness. . One of the goals is to produce another set of retrospective stories at the end of this year that revisits past hopes and expectations and asks what we can learn from the outcome.

Ultimately, Thompson said, the Headway team recognizes that drawing attention to problems doesn’t automatically solve them. But perhaps, he says, in the three years the initiative is currently supposed to last, the team can create a forum to help the world think more consciously about its path.

“One of the most powerful things journalism can do is help people focus their attention in time, not just in a narrow window of what’s happening right now,” he said. . “How will what’s unfolding now affect the decades to come?”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Take a step back to look to the future
Take a step back to look to the future
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