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The New York Times’ “36 Hours” series, a staple of the travel section’s content for over a decade, is finding success with a companion video series to the regular feature.
Unlike the text versions, the videos, which launched in August, don’t outline a rigid schedule to follow, as they’re focused on introducing the characters in the text and telling their stories. Locals narrate and carry the storyline rather than a reporter, a decision that sets the Times apart from many other travel publications, including its own travel section.
“As a viewer, you definitely feel like you’re traveling and being taken to a place by a tour guide with the locals telling the story,” said Monica Drake, the New York Times Travel editor.
“I don’t think readers want the exact same thing as the text. This allows greater flexibility visually, and if you’re trying to keep to a rigid schedule with the video there are limitations in that format. Video is a much more linear experience where its harder to jump around a lot. The videos are a little more inspirational and a slice of life. If you had a stopwatch and a lot of quick edits that probably wouldn’t be the best way to show these places. Overall, I think anyone who has a passion and spirit for exploring the world will enjoy the videos.”
The flexibility cornerstone of “36 Hours” is one of its greatest assets, given travelers take fewer and shorter vacations today, often taking multiple short weekend trips to cut down on time spent away from their jobs. Offering a multiple day itinerary no longer makes sense for travel media in most situations.
This isn’t the first extension of “36 Hours” off the pages of the paper. In 2011, the Times partnered with Tashen books on a guidebook-like series based on the itineraries.
Drake and Nancy Donaldson, the New York Times’ deputy editor of video, say having specific audiences such as adventure travelers or foodies wasn’t the vision of the video or column’s creators. They believe any kind of traveler will find something appealing about the content of these now multimedia packages.
Donaldson added having a thematic basis for the videos rather than a chronological one is more important to the series’ editorial team.
“’36 Hours’ kind of seems like the perfect segment of time,” said Drake. “It’s the way that a lot of people think about their weekend, you’re not planning for just a Saturday trip, and it’s the way a lot of people travel. But it also allows you to draw the 36 hours out. The general thinking is that you’re able to do it and have it not be painful.”
For the videos’ editorial calendar, Donaldson said the series runs the destination “when it needs coverage, a major event is coming up, or when there’s a question about a destination that comes up.”
Creating products that will be relevant long after their publication dates, is one of the more important parts of the development process, said Donaldson.
“They will be evergreen, but obviously have a certain shelf life,” said Drake. “We often revisit destinations. For example, we don’t do Paris just once, we do one part of Paris, then visit another part of the city for the series a little later. I think what trends we’ve shown will be lasting for some years.”
Most of the videos are between five and five and a half minutes long, which Donaldson said isn’t intentional. The focus is to show a variety of stories in a destination rather than going in depth on one museum narrative, for example.
Video’s introduction to the series represents the larger game plan of travel media working to remain relevant in a time when independent Instagram influencers, for example, garner as much attention and often tell compelling stories with their own videos and photos.
“The company overall has put a lot of focus in the video market, we’ve been investing a lot in video over the past couple of years,” said Donaldson. “’36 Hours’ is a strong brand for the company, and it allows the franchise to grow beyond the New York Times website. The column has not changed significantly with the video, and it’s given some of the destinations a harder peg. And since the series always ran weekly it made sense.”
The videos are designed to be shared by non-English speaking populations as well, extending their social reach across borders. Drake said the Madrid video, for example, also has a Spanish version, and the geolocation services of social media platforms has helped target where viewers are watching.
Drake said the column’s regular group of core writers “sniff out” filming locations for each place and that the section “heavily relies” on the writers to give all background info and insider tips to the video team.
“People have been pretty open to [being filmed], you really just have to show up and do a lot of that stuff in person, but people have been very receptive to being filmed,” said Donaldson.
The camera crew on the ground consists of one person shooting with a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), two people shooting photos and a sound person. The videos’ editors work out of the New York office, editing one video a week.
The latest video spotlights Seattle, with past videos ranging from Tulum, Mexico and Copenhagan, Denmark to Hanoi, Vietnam and Nashville, Tenn.