The Best Online Storytelling of 2012

This post is more of a provocation than an actual end of year “best-of” list. So I’m relying on you to help me fill in the gaps.

Inspired by the New York Times’ recent Snow Fall project, I asked my followers on Twitter to send me examples of the best multimedia journalism of 2012. I was looking for the kind of stories that could really only be told online because they brought together a diverse range of elements including some mix of text, video, audio, data and interactivity all in one package.

Here are the stories I’ve collected so far (in no particular order), but I know there are others. Add your favorite examples to the comments section.

New York Times – Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek
Stunning for both its design and how the elements worked together - text amplifying images and video, and video bringing life and depth to the narrative. Here is a great post about how they made Snow Fall.
http://projects.nytimes.com/2012/snow-fall-preview

Symbolia – A Newly Launched iPad Magazine of Graphics Journalism
Symbolia combines illustrated works of journalism with interactivity, audio and more. CJR described it as combining “the rugged hand-drawn texture of a 90’s zine with the investigative vigor and left-leaning politics of Mother Jones.”
http://www.symboliamag.com/

Frontline – A Perfect Terrorist: David Coleman Headley’s Web of Betrayal
Made possible using new video editing and interactive technology from Mozilla, called Popcorn, Frontline took the documentary to the next level.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/labs/i/perfect-terrorist/

California Watch – In Jennifer’s Room
Poynter described this multimedia, living graphic novel as a powerful way to address tell a challenging and emotional story of abuse.
http://californiawatch.org/node/18695
(CIR’s Cole Goins also recommended their mapped report on wait-times at veterans offices: http://cironline.org/reports/map-where-veterans-backlog-worst-3792)

NPR StateImpact – Boomtown
Boomtown is like an audio slideshow on steroids. The StateImpact team creating an engaging report that didn’t end at one website but branched out across a range of platforms and partners.
http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/boomtown/

BBC – Superstorm USA: Caught on Camera
Made almost entirely of crowdsourced cell phone footage, this stunning documentary was a huge undertaking in combining critical journalism with massively distributed user generated video.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p122s

Cartoon Movement / Susie Cagle – Down in Smoke
Cagle’s cartoons are layers of journalism stacked and juxtaposed, creating powerful accounts of moments in time. Cagle uses Thinglink to layer audio over her images.
http://www.cartoonmovement.com/icomic/44 

UPDATES and ADDITIONS (as suggested by people around the web):

ProPublica: How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare
ProPublica’s campaign reporting this year was a masterful mashup of interactive graphics, news apps, crowdsourced investigations and in-depth reports from around the US.
http://www.propublica.org/article/how-nonprofits-spend-millions-on-elections-and-call-it-public-welfare

ESPN: The Long, Strange Trip of Doc Ellis
This piece was suggested by a few people as a great example of how photos, illustrations and more can be woven literally into the text in new ways. Here is some background from Nieman Lab on the ESPN piece.
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Dock-Ellis

Pitchfork: Glitter in the Dark
Like the ESPN piece above, this lovely Pitchfork cover story combines rich imagery with long-form text. The images seem to move, facial expressions responding to the text, and sometimes take over the whole page.
http://pitchfork.com/features/cover-story/reader/bat-for-lashes/

The Guardian US: America Elect!
This graphic novel treatment of the long US election rides the line between still illustrations and animation which is set to motion by the reader’s scrolling.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2012/nov/06/america-elect-graphic-novel

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6 thoughts on “The Best Online Storytelling of 2012

  1. Thanks, Josh. I liked the whole approach of NY Times election forecasting and analysis, for several reasons. Some examples of this are:

    Disciplined quantitative analysis by Nate Silver at http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com

    And the “Do your own projections” like http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/02/us/politics/paths-to-the-white-house.html and http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/ratings/electoral-map

    My reasons for this are:

    1. The national horse race polls were irritating. They had nothing to do with the Electoral College system that would determine the president, and felt to me like journalists misleading the public with irrelevant measures. Usually followed a segment like “Who wins from this hurricane – Obama or Romney?” Your major TV networks, which the rest of the world sees by cable subscription or news clips, were worst with this.

    2. In Canada we have, by necessity, a closer connection to the mathematics of electing a government as we directly elect our representatives by riding at both federal and provincial levels, and the party with the most ridings governs. While your country’s method to elect a president does not allow the same interesting coverage of tying names and faces to ridings, for a local race within a national race like with your House and Senate, US media forecasting and analysis of presidential elections has to improve and highlight the Electoral College system more (and therefore underlying concerns of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and election process dependent on political objective of officials).

    3. As it turned out, the discipline of sticking to the quantitative analysis to forecasting the outcome, and making adjustments only with peer-reviewed scientific rigour, was more successful. The “experienced politician veteran” adjusting or handicapping the results by feel/gut was sometimes laughably wrong. We (should) know our emotions and personal opinion have a much larger effect on our perception and filtering of inputs than we expect.

    4. I hope this spreads. We have some serious problems to solve, with national economies linked so strongly, climate change, hunger, disease, war. It bothers me that the American politicians and some media coverage especially (although this happens in many countries including mine) have moved away from problem-solving in a discipline way with the guidance of properly-qualified experts, to dismissing them as conspirators or disconnected, and appealing to people’s “common sense.” There is such manipulation in this “common sense” and someone qualified in the field can easily pick one or two fundamental problems with the public being fed a cynical alternative to critical thinking.

    5. In the interest of balance, the media often gives similar weight or time to the emotionally appealing crackpot over the trained (perhaps introverted) expert. Or doesn’t have enough experience in the area themselves to be able to ask more probing or skeptical questions. On election forecasting for example, “If the statistics show something happens 19 times out of 20, give me more than an anecdote to dismiss the whole thing. Explain why your anecdote or this situation is going to be the exception.” Even if you give both “sides” equal time, if you let them do it in a minute or two without interruption, more complex situations can be explained from expert to non-expert in a way that makes sense. Like election forecasting, or economics, or climate science, or the cost-benefit of immunization.

    6. It bothered me that no presidential candidate stood with a series of graphs and explained their economic platform – if so it was not covered. Some media outlets graphed deficit and debt projections, but usually very superficially in-house. Has the public fallen so far back in ability to comprehend math, or the interaction of two or more causes on an effect? Has the media become so rusty or out-of-touch that it can’t do this either? How do we vote on it if our understanding is so shallow? It feels like a dangerous and downward spiral.

    7. Our emotional response is much faster and stronger than our intellectual response. So the quick soundbite or argumentative interview is going to win over the more time-consuming, thoughtful conversation. 5 seconds > 1 minute. I understand the painful economics of news coverage, but this has a huge cost. Hopefully multimedia analysis like the ones I suggested – computer generated, marker on whiteboard, plastic brick models, finger in sand, whatever – help the media hold interest and sufficient ratings to help enlighten and (dare I say educate) each other and the public past the quick and superficial.

    Thanks

  2. Pingback: The Best Online Storytelling of 2012 « Groundswell | Transmedia Seattle | Scoop.it

  3. Pingback: Welcome back, Lantern class! Let’s look at what you’re about to take on. « Dancatosu's Blog

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