The 2017 Online Journalism Awards; an IMMJ student’s take on her favorite reporting projects.

By Angela Lee 2017/18 cohort

Every year online multimedia journalism and storytelling evolves and the annual Online Journalism Awards, are always a great place to see how the industry is developing. I compiled five of my favorite pieces of reporting from the 2017 awards and hope you’ll be as inspired by them as I am. The awardees include both large international and small local news organizations, there’s even a student award too so keep your eye on that in the future!

AWARDED – EXCELLENCE AND INNOVATION IN VISUAL DIGITAL STORYTELLING

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Screenshot from New York Times

Fragments of a Life: A Curbside Mystery “A quest to solve the mystery behind an abandoned bag of photo slides found on a New York City street corner leads the reporter Deborah Acosta and her audience to uncover truths about life, love, and loss”.

When Deborah Acosta found a bagful of photo slides in a trash bin, she set about finding out where they came from, creating a touching and beautiful story about a deceased woman.

Acosta used Facebook Live to do her investigation, she live video streamed her reporting as she went along and invited the audience to offer clues and information to deepen investigation. This creative approach and use of social media and video journalism is something we can learn from to involve and engage the audience. I was also impressed by her spirit to keep on digging and uncover the truth; finally giving the audience a complete story.

AWARDED – EXCELLENCE IN AUDIO DIGITAL STORYTELLING 

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Screenshot from Frontier of Change

Frontier of Change This reporting project, produced by KNBA (a radio station in Anchorage, Alaska) recorded stories from Alaskans whose lives are impacted by climate change. The aim is “to bring voices and stories of Alaska’s changing climate to the streets and airwaves of Anchorage”.

The Frontier of Change asserts that the impact of climate change in Alaska is faster and more serious than other parts of the US temperatures here are rising twice as fast…the coastline is eroding, permafrost is melting, and traditional animal migration patterns are changing”.

Global warming is a topical issue worldwide, but it can sometimes seem far away and removed from our daily lives. This project delivers the harsh realities climate change’s impacts in a human and thought-provoking manner; it uses both stand-alone audio, video photography and text. It’s not surprising – as it’s produced by a radio station – that the audio work is the strongest. Powerful use of sound, for example, capturing the ambiance of the annual three-day-long whaling feast, makes you feel as if you are personally at the scene. The voices of the interviews are clear and powerful. In my opinion, visuals are sometimes a weakness, for example – the video is not always stabilized. Also, the photos in the sound walk are not really impressive. For example, the picture of “Meant to be heard outside Darwin’s Theory bar” is quite ordinary, probably forget very soon after you saw it. The take away is that all elements of a multimedia story need to be strong and well planned and sometimes not everyone can cover all skills adequately – in this case, it’s important to get the right team for the job.

AWARDED – EXPLANATORY REPORTING

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Screenshot from The Seattle Times

Under Our Skin The developer team explained: “that the project grew out of conversations about how journalists cover race at a time when national and local events — the furor over police shootings, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, protests on college campuses and charged campaign rhetoric — dominate headlines”.

The multimedia project complies video interviewees with a variety of non-white Americans together with audience comments. The layout of the single page scrolling page is eye-catching and easy to navigate. The editorial team planned a clear structure including 12 different interactive videos discussing various race issues and tensions, which can be selected for a personalized use by the audience. The background music matches the video, conveying a serious mood.

This project can inspire all of us to think and talk about race, inclusiveness, and sensitivity in a deeper way, “For those who freeze up at the prospect of talking about race, this project may help break the ice. For those who tend to take sides right away when the issue of race comes up, this project may challenge assumptions and build common ground.

AWARDED – FEATURE

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Screenshot from Mother Jones

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard This Mother Jones investigation story focuses on the severe reality that American inmates and prison staff face on a daily basis. It’s important because prisoners are vulnerable groups that need protection and attention from the society. The mental and physical abuse, the spiritual trauma they suffer can be lifelong. They should not be ‘othered’, they are individuals like anyone.

The reporting divided into five chapters, the main medium is text, but photography, video, and graphics are also used. The piece starts with a conversation between a recruiter for prison guards run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and journalist, Shane Bauer, who went undercover as a prison guard to report the story. The nut graph concisely explains the news value of the story – which is that it brings a raw and real look into prisons and the lives of both guards and prisoners, information that journalists rarely get true access to. The journalist finally focuses on and reveals how cost-cutting measures are impacting safety for staff and prisoners.

While it’s text heavy, the design and layout is slick and nicely designed. The inclusion of pull quotes, maps, graphics, pictures break things up and the mixture of hard facts and compelling descriptive writing keep the audience engaged.

Many mediums are woven together, and all are powerful. The video sequences are great, and cinematic methods like time-lapse photography are used too. The photos are sensational and really convey a dark and depressive emotion. Infographics are simple but clear. Overall, this piece of news unveiling the dark and tragic stories of these usually hidden lives to the whole world, it’s painful and heartbreaking but helpful for the public to truly think about and engage in.

You can watch the journalist talking about his investigation in this video series.

AWARDED – TOPICAL REPORTING

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Screenshot from The Washington Post

Searching for evidence of Trump’s personal giving The developer team explained they “contacted more than 400 charities with some ties to the GOP nominee in an effort to find proof of the millions Trump has said he donated to them. They’ve mostly been unsuccessful.

David Fahrenthold investigated Trump’s personal donations thoroughly and insistently. The use of 16 handwritten notes from his search on the front page is really persuasive, it hooks the audience in and gives us an immediate and comprehensive picture about whether Donald Trump’s claim: “that, in recent years, he has given millions of dollars to charity out of his own pocket” is true or not. The public deserves the truth, and it’s the journalists’ obligation to dig it out and report it.

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