NYT Meet the Candidates

How interactive medium delivers an intuitive understanding of political views.

Background

Voters are under-informed. One of the challenges for them is understanding where do the candidates stand on specific issues. Most of the time, media outlets push event-based news into the voters’ source of information — TV, social media, etc. A summarization of candidates is unlikely to be actively served to the voters and needs them to seek for it.

In Spring 2019, The New York Times published an interactive article Meet the Candidates interviewing Democratic presidential candidates.

“The New York Times reached out to 22 Democratic presidential candidates to ask them the same set of questions on video… During the interviews, we asked candidates to answer each question briefly — with a simple yes or no, or another terse, direct reply — before explaining their views at greater length.” — About the Project

This project analyzes the article’s effectiveness from a communication and interaction design perspective. It then tries to offer a possible physical presence that builds upon the original report for enhanced influence. The goal is to find ways to inform the electorate in a concise, intuitive format, and reach a broad audience through a new medium.

About This Project

This is a concept work and is not affiliated with The New York Times. The Times logo, the NYT Franklin typeface, and relevant editorial content are used here for illustrative purposes.

An Interactive Format

Compared to traditional reporting, mostly in the format of profile and interview, this interactive article makes use of the the on-demand nature of interactive content, enabling new ways to tell the story.

Advantages

Candidates talk in a video with their own voice and agree on the format in advance. This format offers trust to both the audience and candidates by design: editorial means won’t influence the delivered message.

Candidates answer to questions based on an important issue. This removes emotional engagement from the candidates that might distract the message, offering purely straightforward and hopefully rational comments.

Candidates are asked to answer in brief. They reply with a simple yes or no, or another brief, direct reply — before explaining their views at greater length. The conciseness allows quick consumption for the audience.

A screenshot of the original article, showing a video answer from a candiate on a certain question, with a summary on the side. Other candidates' anwsers are visible below.

Candidates’ answers are summarized with a quote from the video. Relative clips are also compiled into an overview video. This allows the audience to quickly understand all candidates’ views without watching their detailed answers. If a candidate dodges the question, the quote will be naturally ineffective as a message from the candidate.

Candidates can talk to only the audience and only once, through answering the given question. This prevents fighting between each other, hijacking conversation for stealing attention from other candidates, or shifting the topic to avoid the audience’s scrutiny. Those are common problems with a TV debate.

No live audience reactions. This ensures the message is delivered without any collective influence like cheering or booing. The viewer can have a more independent thinking process.

Candidates’ answers are visually presented side by side with summary quotes. This allows the audience to quickly browse through candidates, easily compare across them, and pick anyone to watch in detail. This avoids linearity of TV news and text-based news and allow the viewer to understand in the own pace and order.

Downsides

No fact-checking. The report sacrifices facts by giving candidates their own screen time with almost no moderation and editing. Even as the candidates are asked to offer a straightforward answer upfront and elaborate afterward, some of them still delivered stump speeches without clear standpoints.

No follow-ups. Some candidates’ response to a particular issue deserves a follow-up to discuss the details. The lack of exchange could encourage misleading campaigning without using solid proof or plan but empty promises. Again it is sacrificed for the format and increase the candidate’s will to participate.

Only interviewed one party. This is specific to the 2020 set of data, but it’s still challenging to include both parties in today’s political landscape. On issues of concern, the two parties generally have different focus, and it’s hard to offer a fair amount of time on it without being criticized for partisan bias.

Missing Biden’s participation. In this specific dataset, the absence of the front-runner is a significant imbalance of the report. The audience cannot get a full picture of the landscape.

Questions have limited depth. It’s not bringing out the nuances and facts of specific issues, but if the format targets the uninformed portion of the electorate, then it’s probably good enough.

A Physical Presence

User interface of the installation, captured live.