2020 Sylvia Harris Award—”The Truth is Local” Experiential Storefronts

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Honor & Sylvia Harris Awards 2020

A truly singular and engaging campaign executed across all five boroughs of the City of New York, “The Truth is Local” Experiential Storefronts were designed by firm Local Projects for The New York Times.

As the local journalism crisis deepens, with thousands of local news outlets shuttering across the country, The New York Times has renewed its focus on covering their own home base. The Times has a rich tradition of reporting in New York, but because of the publication’s political and international coverage, many New Yorkers don’t think of it as a local news source.  

The New York Times posed this question to the Local Projects team: “How we can we give New Yorkers a way to more tangibly experience our journalism beyond simply reading it?” Together, client and design team developed a journalistic experience that embodied the Times’ reporting in each of New York’s five boroughs. Leveraging creativity to build awareness in otherwise vacant storefronts, the Local Projects team highlighted the importance of deep, investigative journalism in an era of fast news and social media.

“The Truth Is Local” campaign showed why Times journalism in New York is valuable and worth supporting by creating five perspective-shifting storefront installations that brought important reporting from each borough to life—wrongful murder convictions in Brooklyn, educational inequality in the Bronx, reckless taxi lending schemes in Manhattan, the life of an overlooked woman in Queens and forgotten history in Staten Island. Each storefront explained the significance of the reporting and featured a bespoke audio narrative with the journalists.  

The design team’s concept was reverse engineered from their strategy to grab a commuter’s attention within the first seconds of passing by creating visuals compelling and intricate enough then, hold their attention long enough to question what they were seeing and relate to the journalism that inspired the work. Then finally, they wanted to give visitors a deeper understanding of the stories and journalists themselves.

The design team employed a number of visual and technical devices to grab attention, including theatrical design, illusions, presence sensors, and unusual perspectives. Ultimately, the technique was in service of the story and—true to The New York Times—was tirelessly rigorous to ensure we captured each story’s narrative and importance.

The five installations appeared in otherwise empty storefronts during the last two weeks of June 2019. The Bronx storefront uses a forced perspective recreation of a classroom to put viewers in the shoes of Bronx students who have unequal access to educational resources.  A storefront prison block set in Brooklyn highlights one reporter’s work that led to the release of several wrongfully imprisoned inmates and the review of over 50 more cases.

The Manhattan storefront creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia for a lone taxicab on an otherwise typical city block. Visitors empathize with the sensation felt by many individuals trapped in the reckless lending of taxi licenses in an ongoing investigation by The Times.

The Queens installation at once tells the story of a vibrant sprawling neighborhood and its underbelly. In the familiar neon signage of Flushing’s 40th Road hides the icon of a butterfly, the personal symbol of a life interrupted. The Staten Island storefront takes inspiration from early designs of a long-abandoned subway tunnel intended to connect Staten Island and Brooklyn.

In a campaign highlighting the value of local journalism, it was important to quickly and visually quantify the importance of original investigative reporting. But the installations did more than that—they fostered real conversation and introspection between complete strangers in the neighborhoods where these stories actually happened.

“Art installations for social awareness,” is how one visitor described our bold and unexpected installations. Visitors felt the tangible presence and investment of The Times in the community, and a framework from which to tell future stories.

The campaign drove more than 1.1 billion earned social impressions, and saw significant lifts in brand perception, including an increase in understanding what it takes for The New York Times to produce journalism, and agreement that The Times is a news source that creates change. Lastly, the campaign saw a strong rise in purchase intent—outperforming their national campaign.


Jury Comments:
“A successful marketing campaign that sheds light on important topics while activating storefronts and neighborhoods. Relevant and powerful in many different ways.”

“Storefronts become storyfronts in this powerful transformation of the local streetscape. Passersby are drawn into the world of another, a world that is their world. Through this moment of sharing and expanding understanding, citizens may understand how the story of another relates to or touches them, anonymously working to build community.”

“Loved the way the New York Times used local city spaces as learning moments to bring light to local stories. The storefront approach was truly refreshing as a way to lift the work off the screen and off the newspaper into a different medium. Beautiful.”

Design Firm: Local Projects
Client: The New York Times
Project Area: 10,000 sq ft
Open Date: June 2019
Fabricators: The New Motor (specialty fabricator)
Photography: Juliana Sohn, Karsten Moran/The New York Times (photography); Jason Banker, Ben Millstein, Matthew Le (videography)