Written byChris Smith
Last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas inevitably resulted in a wide range of coverage across multiple news outlets.
In their pioneering reporting of the massacre in which gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people, the New York Times adopted methods developed by Forensic Architecture, an investigative research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Using a technique called investigative video reporting, or video forensics — developed by Forensic Architecture — the Times video team reconstructed Paddock’s 10-minute rampage by identifying all 12 bursts of gunfire and placing them on a timeline.
Forensic Architecture conducts advanced architectural and media research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organisations and political and environmental justice groups, developing new investigative techniques to create pioneering forms of evidence.
The Times team that investigated the massacre was led by Senior Story Producer Malachy Browne. They began by collecting eyewitness video from the Associated Press, Storyful and social media, before examining the files for geolocation data, studying satellite imagery of before and after the shooting and using the position of landmarks, and even the moon, to synchronise multiple videos of the event.
Still from reconstruction with police audio
"The work was inspiring and I started thinking about how my reporting could be scaled beyond daily news events to deeper investigations. The combination of these approaches to verification is the bedrock of the visual forensics we’re doing now at The New York Times, combined with the reporting weight of the broader newsroom.
"The techniques draw from a much wider base of evidence and information than is available through traditional means of reporting. By forensically analysing the evidence, it's possible to draw fresh insights into an event and raise new questions. The audience benefits in two main ways: by better understanding how an event unfolded; and by learning how accidental eyewitnesses can contribute valuable evidence to important events."
The Times report has been praised as a breakthrough in investigative reporting. Pete Vernon of the Columbia Journalism Review said: "The use of video forensics has become something that distinguishes the Times from its competitors...the final product is unlike anything produced by competing outlets."
Bob Trafford, a researcher with Forensic Architecture, said: "Working out of an academic context, one of our mandates is to develop and share new investigative techniques, and we are delighted that major institutions such as the New York Times are making use of techniques developed by ourselves and others. We're proud to have had a hand in developing new forms of evidence-based reporting and independent verification."