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.
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