The New York Times' interactive 'Story Portraits' reflect readers through their favorite headlines

Questlove also stars in latest spot from the 'Independent Journalism for an Independent Life' campaign with Droga5

Published On
Jun 13, 2022

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In February, the New York Times went from the “truth” to “independence” in a new brand campaign from Droga5 that put the spotlight on its readers, portraying them through the lens of the headlines that have helped to shape their lives.

Now, the latest from the "Independent Journalism for an Independent Life" campaign puts them on stage again, in a new spot starring multi-talented artist Questlove and with an online feature that invites subscribers to create their own “Story Portraits.”  The interactive experience analyzes subscribers’ Times reading habits and, pulling from a collection of more than 50,000 articles, it will craft a typographical wall of headlines that have attracted their attention, just like those that appear in the campaign spots.  The result is a unique, shareable “portrait” that captures readers through the stories that have intrigued them. 


Allowing readers to create portraits seems like a natural extension of the campaign’s premise. Amy Weisenbach, senior VP-head of marketing at The New York Times, noted that the first spots from the effort yielded positive results. “We were able to improve perceptions of The New York Times among our target audience, growing awareness of our breadth of coverage and increasing relevance with readers who saw the campaign,” she said. 


The interactive portraits are also a smart way to encourage readers to subscribe— only those who pay for access are able to engage with the feature. “We had fallen in love with a creative construct we crafted very manually for a small number of subscribers featured in the campaign and thought, ‘How might we let all of our subscribers experience this snapshot of themselves through Times journalism?’” Weisenbach said. “We’re excited to have landed on an idea that gives readers, specifically subscribers, a way to participate in the campaign.”

Weisenbach added that subscribers who engage with “Story Portraits” need not worry about privacy, as their data stays in The Times' ecosystem and aren’t saved on the publication's side.  “We know how personal your reading history can be, so it’s fully up to each subscriber whether they want to share externally themselves or keep it personal,” Weisenbach said. 

Questlove, aka Ahmir Khalib Thompson, is the first celebrity to join the campaign, following the initial lineup of curious but more under-the-radar readers. The new spot, directed by Joshua Kissi via Division7, is a textured glimpse into his varied creative interests and influences, ranging from topics such as climate change to the beauty of subway sounds and life beyond planet Earth. 

“We set out to choose someone who embodies our curious reader and embraces the values of curiosity, openness and autonomy,” said Weisenbach. Questlove is a longtime reader of the Times and a subscriber since 2020. He recently penned a Guest Essay on collecting and is a dedicated Games player as well.