To thine own self be true, or ‘you do you’ #ydy the key to digital success

‘So what did you learn during this project?’

I knew the question was coming, but, standing on stage in front of a crowd which included some of the most talented digital journalists in the world, it suddenly seemed like an awfully big one to answer.

This was the Wan-Ifra (the World Association of Newspapers) World Digital Media Awards in Vienna and I was honoured to be collecting the award for the Best Data Visualisation project on behalf of Times of Oman for our Omani Dress microsite (www.timesofoman.com/extra/OmaniDress).

‘What did you learn’, pressed Dean Roper, WanIfra’s Editor-in-Chief.

The best I could mumble was along the lines that smaller publishers shouldn’t be afraid to dream big.

Which is true.

We are not the New York Times or The Guardian, I told Dean on stage, and yet we felt we pulled off something special by gathering together a team of nine passionate people and telling them they had to work on this ambitious project…while continuing to doing their day jobs.

It was a good enough answer I suppose for the occasion, a sound bite before very gratefully accepting the award (which really meant a lot as we were the first in the Middle East to win at the World Awards) and returning to the table.

It was only the next day when I was sat down with Anton Jolkovski from WanIfra for a more in-depth conversation about the project that perhaps the most important lesson struck me – hence ‘you do you’ or indeed the great advice from The Bard ‘to thine own self be true’.

Anton asked how much the New York Times’ Snowfall, the groundbreaking data visualation masterpiece, was an inspiration for us. I think almost anything that followed that amazing piece of work will always be compared to it, it was after all beautiful work.

So yes, we were inspired and influenced of course, but also it was important not to copycat but to sit down and think about what was the unique story we could tell, what in Oman did we have that was special?

Yes, we were never going to do Snowfall in the desert (though the story of 2007’s Cyclone Gonu still appeals…Rainfall?), but the challenge remained to find subject matter that was close to our hearts.

Snowfall showed that data visualisation did not need to be just numbers and graphs but can be a work of art, that was what we wanted to achieve in some measure, a digital piece of craftsmanship that would stand out.

Choosing something that was so dear to our readers’ hearts helped, something that was so culturally important as Oman’s national dress meant the team felt an enormous responsibility to get it 100 per cent right. Their work was meticulous, painstaking, and ultimately I believe that dedication to detail, that love of the craft, made the project shine.

And if you look at any of the winners at this year’s awards, who I was humbled to sit and talk with, you’ll see the same passion, the same ‘youdoyouness’ about their projects.

None of them picked the easy route, instead they took on something that was special to them and made it great, and that is why they won. Not just awards, but more importantly their audience’s appreciation.

Even in the multiplicity of digital and the oceans of content online, quality can still cut through.

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