Every 10 years since 1952, the British Film Institute releases Sight and Sound magazine’s Greatest Films of All Time, a list of cinema’s top 100 achievements. The list draws from polls submitted by international film critics, distributors, writers, curators and more.
Recognizing the once-a-decade opportunity, Eric Grode—director of the Newhouse School’s Goldring arts journalism and communications program and regular contributor to The New York Times—wanted to compare past lists with the upcoming one.
“I have been a fan of this list for a long, long time,” he says. “When I realized that the 2022 list would be coming out at some point, I reached out to my film editor at The Times and said, ‘I think this could make for an interesting article.’”
Late in the Spring 2022 semester, Grode built a team of Newhouse students and faculty to assist him in collecting, inputting and analyzing the data.
He recruited alumna Katherine Kiessling G‘22, who graduated from the Goldring program in May, and assistant professor Alex Richards. Richards’ background in data journalism benefitted him in his role as a “big safety net” in the fact-checking part of the process.
“The thing I was able to do was help them assemble the data—in the format that it needed to be—so that they could analyze it and ask all these questions and get all these answers for the piece,” he says. “But also I just made sure that [the data] didn’t have any issues that could derail their answers.”
Richards invited Abigail Baughan and Julia Virnelli—both students in his Foundations of Data and Digital Journalism course and juniors in the magazine, news and digital journalism program—to also contribute to the article.
“The project serves as yet another reminder for me why Newhouse has been a great fit,” Baughan says. “We have access to professors who are so knowledgeable in their fields and interests and are willing to take the time to work with students.”
Baughan and Virnelli analyzed the lists, built a large spreadsheet from the results and extracted noteworthy information, producing trends that Grode expanded upon in the article.
“I’ve interned for newspapers before, but nothing to this scale,” Virnelli says. “It was definitely intimidating, but I’ve always been a huge fan of The New York Times.”
Kiessling combed through Virnelli and Baughan’s large data compilations to find more trends, “using my film knowledge and my pop culture knowledge to create a story,” she says.
Baughan notes that one of the challenges of data-driven writing is the uncertainty of what kind of story the data will tell, but both students say the experience allowed them to use skills they learned in class in a tangible way.
“I’m really glad they were interested in doing this work,” Richards says. “And I’m really proud of the result and all the work that they put into it.”
Grode incorporated the trends throughout his article which overflows with graphics, charts and details about the most influential films of all time like “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane.”
Though research started in May, delays in the official list’s release extended the team’s work into late fall. On Dec. 2, “What Makes a Movie the Greatest of All Time” was published on The New York Times’ website. In addition to Grode’s main byline, Kiessling, Richards, Baughan and Virnelli are all credited with contributing to the piece.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Kiessling says of that accomplishment. “It still hasn’t quite sunk in.”
Julia Sassoon is a junior public relations major at the Newhouse School.
Madelyn Geyer, content manager at the Newhouse School, also contributed to this article.