The Online News Association declared the winners of its Online Journalism Awards (OJAs) this past week, giving #loweclass and other aspiring journalists the opportunity to view and analyze the some best works of online journalism out there.
Here are the pieces that had the greatest impact on me as a budding journalist:
"Hollow" is an interactive documentary on McDowell County, West Virginia. It is one of many "dying" counties across the nation. The documentary describes the state of "dying" as one in which more people are leaving than staying. What I appreciated about this piece was that it was engaging. It opens with a scroll-through timeline which could have easily been presented as a video. Yet, because the creators required that the reader scroll through it themselves, they were able to physically bring people into the timeline and into the story of this place in a way that I had never experienced before. The navigation bar is hidden at the bottom of the screen and does not disrupt the viewer's experience as they scroll through photographs, video content, and interactive data in the timeline. The website also makes incredible use of natural sound. Each of these elements are what make this piece infinitely more engaging than if it had only been in print. The site draws the audience into the world of McDowell County so well that all that is lacking is the smell of the mountain air.
2. "Wild Horses In Crisis"
This story was different from "Hollow" in that it was supplemental to a documentary. The story is a great example of how to effectively write stories that involve a lot of number crunching in a way that is understandable for people who are not knowledgeable about the subject. I am sure that there is much more research and data that contributed to the Patton's ability to write and create this story than simply what was presented on the site. I learned how to present information in a balanced way while also providing copies of studies (if available) so that readers of more advanced skill sets or those with more interest could read the data in full and analyze it themselves. Patton also made it a point to fairly present both sides of the argument for and against corralling wild horses before he presented his own opinion through his phrasing and story angle. It allowed him to gain credibility and trust from his readers.
3. "Return to Elwah" and (3.5) "Sea Change: The Pacific's Perilous Turn"
Both of these pieces provided me with a view of more in depth coverage of issues that I previously knew about. Neither the essential role of salmon in the ecosystem nor the problem of ocean acidification were new topics to me. What excited me about these two is their overall job of digging further into each of the issues. I was reminded that even though there may be topics that have been a part of scientific dialogue for a while, there is still a story to find in them. There are more people who are affected by these problems than the average reader knows and they have a greater impact on our lives than we care to notice. Each used video, audio and text to tell the story and also made a point to keep it about the impact that the changes will have on humans, more so in the case of "Sea Change: The Pacific's Perilous Turn".
(For a crash course on why ocean acidification happens and why it's a problem, read my blog post about it.)
4. "Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt"
In this Mister Rodgers-esque NPR report, the extraordinary is brought out in the ordinary. It uses video, text, and infographics like many of the other finalists and winners, but what set it apart was its style. Perhaps that is why this one is the best of the winners I have seen from the OJAs. This report proves that no matter how advanced technology gets, there is nothing that can replace the value of the soul of a story. The reporter taught about cotton and machinery in humorous ways. He contrasted the lives of people who rely on the garment industry for subsistence, while others are using it as a stepping stone into their dream profession. He puts a human face to an inanimate object, making the audience truly see the story behind a simple t-shirt.
Each of the qualities that I have highlighted from these stories are ones that I value in my goal of being a science writer. Though some are more specific to science writing, such as digging deep into scientific issues and research, the majority are relevant to anyone who is aiming to be a successful communicator of information and ideas. Drawing the reader in, presenting large amounts of data in a fair and comprehensible way, and finding incredible stories in old or uninteresting places are all things that any reporter should be able to do. The technology is the easy part.
To read more of the OJA winners and finalists, click here.
While straddling the worlds of science and communication, it is not rare that I feel out of place. Running from my biomedical sciences lectures to my journalism courses, my majors show me that each side of campus is its own little world - and that I don't quite fit into the mold of either.
In my anatomy and organic chemistry lectures, I'm constantly surrounded by aspiring doctors, physician assistants, scientists and pharmacists. "I'm going to med school," they say. No room for mistakes in the atmosphere of cutthroat competition. Each knows exactly what they need to do to reach their goals.
Theirs is a more well-trodden path than mine, and they are able to find solace in that.
In my journalism classes, I sit with the soon-to-be sports reporters, TV broadcasters and novelists. They each have an air of confidence that I've noticed in most communication students. They are unafraid to ask anyone a question. They never seem to be intimidated about sharing their work with the world. For that, I envy them.
I'm a scientist who loves writing; a journalist who loves her chemistry models. For the most part, I stand firm in my dream of being a science writer. Yet, there are weeks like this past one, with anatomy and organic chemistry exams bookending basic photography and journalism assignments, when I think I should just give up and choose one or the other. After all, how many papers and magazines are even looking for science writers? By the time I have enough experience to specifically write science, will my science major even be relevant? Our #loweclass guest had an answer for me.
On Wednesday, Mira Lowe, senior features editor for CNN Digital, spoke to our JOUR 2100 class. Though it was the middle of one such tough week, I was thrilled to be in the presence of such a successful journalist and editor.
She had us look at the first chapter of "Sandy's Story" prior to meeting for class. It was a beautiful piece of medical journalism which aimed to put a face to Alzheimer's disease. (Side note: The story is partly reported by Sanjay Gupta, which I was very excited about since I want to be the not-a-doctor-female version of Sanjay Gupta when I grow up. Not an astronaut nor a ballerina. Sanjay Gupta.)
There are ultimately two things that Lowe reminded me that day. First, that specialization is the way to go. She told us that though it may be a bit harder to break in to the industry, in the long run, specialization is what she looks for in reporters. Second, that there are people out there who are writing about science in amazing, emotional and relevant ways. Science writing may be a shrinking profession, but there are still women and men out there who are passionate about teaching readers about how science is changing lives on a daily basis. We can all empathize with the frustration and fear that Sandy must feel as his Alzheimer's progresses. His story still matters and it always will.
So, yes, my double major is difficult. Yes, people give me looks of horror at the thought of merging the (seemingly) unrelated paths. But just as often, people are excited for me. They are impressed. They are the people who fuel my passion for science writing.
They remind me that as long as I keep working at it, one day, I can be Sanjay Gupta.
It’s nearly 5 p.m. and Officer John Peterson of the Milwaukee Police Mounted Patrol watches the doors of Marquette University’s Al McGuire Center. He’s been there with his Percheron mare, Beth, for about three hours. Suddenly, the doors open and hundreds of people flood into the closed-off street.
“It’s nice now that people are around," Petersen said. "We’re just watching them go by. Until now we were watching the empty street."
He and his three fellow officers are enjoying being on Marquette’s campus thanks to a special request made to their captain for their presence on the momentous occasion: the inauguration of Marquette's first lay president. While the Marquette community celebrates the beginning of their president’s term, he and Beth keep the peace.
“Usually we’re downtown at special events. We do Summerfest, Jazz in the Park, River-Rhythms ... we work protests too, if there are any of those. We also just patrol around and focus on quality of life. … We’re police officers; we make arrests,” he said.
Despite their ability to make arrests, the patrol’s presence has a different air to it than with other officers. The mounted unit is one way the Milwaukee Police Department aims to presents itself as an approachable presence. So they try to work as much as they can, including the winters.
“Last year was just too much. When it got around October we knew that, so we couldn't do the winter,” he said.
Attendees of the ceremony continue to exit the Al. They stop to admire and stroke Beth and to take photos of the two. They then move on to attend the reception across campus. Peterson goes back to surveying the area. He does not know much about the event, the new president nor Marquette’s campus, but as he sits atop Beth on the warm fall day, it is clear he is in his element.
“I just love being able to spend time with horses," he says. "And the job itself - every day is different."
For more on the inauguration, see my Storify.
"Journalists go and cover where others run for cover," said Professor Herbert Lowe in a 2011 video interview for the Marquette Tribune. As the reporter assigned to cover the unfolding 9/11 tragedy for Newsday, Lowe witnessed firsthand the horrors of that day.
Listening to his statements in an interview and reading his account of the attack was a very moving experience. Yet, of all his comments, I feel the most remarkable was that despite the unimaginable fear and chaos of such an event, Lowe got people to talk.
"The more you talk, the more you recognize you're alive," said Lowe. It seems counterintuitive that people want to talk in such situations, but this reaction holds true in similar cases.
By willingly going into dangerous situations every day, journalists around the world and at home continually remind us of the importance of speaking for those who are silenced. They risk everything to put words to events of unspeakable terror, to help us imagine unbelievable pain and suffering.
"Whenever I hear about how those in the military are sacrificing their freedoms or sacrificing their lives ... I think that sometimes that's propaganda. I mean, journalists have to go into the community every day in this county and tell stories where people don't want them," said Lowe regarding the danger in a journalist's life.
The job is certainly difficult, but it is needed more and more in today's chaotic world. Many have answered the call, and their contribution to the media is irreplaceable. Even today, after his time in the newsroom has ended, Lowe continues to teach young journalists (like myself) the value journalism. Such knowledge truly is priceless.
CNN’s microsite, "ATL24", uses a very effective multimedia approach to depict everything human about Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Navigation of the site is streamlined, yet versatile. The viewer can either read using a timeline, by story topics, or simply by scrolling down the site. This way a reader who may not have the time nor the patience to look through the whole site can maneuver through and get a taste of each topic as they please. Every reader can search for a story that touches them at the core of their humanity.
Saundra Cage, an airport bartender, has one such story. She serves every type of person on a given day, from celebrities to anyone who needs a drink to calm their nerves before take off. In a place where people are constantly on the move, Cage watches passengers find love, lose family, and face the struggles of everyday life. Her story gives a sense of stability to the ever-changing airport.
A brief view into a TSA officer’s day lends a human voice to a controversial job. The officer jokes with passengers before sending them on their way, content with the moment of peace in his busy week.
Omar, an Iraqi refugee, and her two daughters bring another purpose to the Atlanta airport: that of salvation. The three have finally gotten the new beginning they hoped for. Though almost everyone they see speaks and looks different from them, they are safe in the airport despite being surrounded by complete strangers.
These are just a few of the millions of stories in this airport. Being able to scroll through photographs, video profiles, text, and infographics made the microsite engaging and realistic. The story puts faces to the world’s busiest airport in a way that is nothing short of a journalistic masterpiece.
This site is my way of connecting you to the happenings of my journalistic adventures and the rest of my digital portfolio.