Winnipeg Free Press engages readers with visual history of its city

At the heart of the Winnipeg Free Press are stories about our city – always has been, always will be. But the stories about Winnipeg in the special “City Beautiful” series we kicked off in the fall of 2014 were told in a way never before seen in our 143-year-old history. 

We wanted to echo the ambition that led to the brick and steel that sought to lift Winnipeg from a “lusty, gutsy, bawdy frontier boomtown” into a city that was catching the eye of the world. 

And so, what first debuted on our Web site represented a groundbreaking effort to tell the story about our past, present, and future in a way that Free Press editors could have only dreamed of a century ago. 

The evocative narrative was enhanced by a wide range of multi-media components, with archival photographs, video, graphics, and animation seamlessly integrated into the feature. 

And in what we believe is a first in the history of Manitoba’s iconic Golden Boy statue, we employed a drone to capture a close-up of his face from the lofty perch atop the domed Legislature as we pulled back to a panorama of this city built upon the prairie.

What we aimed to deliver was a fundamentally different experience, an experience that enriched, entertained, and engaged in a way that allowed our readers to not only see our city in a new light, but also the Free Press. 

The architecture of the Free Press, much like that of our city, has changed and evolved. To deliver this project four months in the making, the team (under the direction of Associate Editor Scott Gibbons) had to fundamentally re-think what a newsroom can be, what it can do, and even how it works.

We had to not only write headlines but also computer code. We had to not only worry how the series and its three chapters looked over back-to-back-to-back editions of our Saturday newspaper, but also how it would present on desktops, tablets, and smartphones. 

I don’t think I’m overstating it by saying that undertaking the “City Beautiful” project was a renaissance for our newsroom and the Free Press. Having delivered a product that was so well-received by our audiences, there grew a demand for it to be captured in a hard-cover book. 

Our newsroom quickly shifted gears to covert the project into a hard-cover, coffee-table sized book in time for the Christmas sales period. 

And in a truly beautiful end to this project, from the moment it landed in book stores, “City Beautiful” was atop the Manitoba best-seller list, a title it held for months and triggered a second printing.

About Paul Samyn

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