The Rise of Hands-On Journalism

Digital journalism has made possible some incredible storytelling in recent years. Visually stunning reports on issues as diverse as gun violence, environmental disasters, and surveillance have brought stories to life on the screen. Increasingly, however, journalists are experimenting with innovations that move journalism off the screen and into people’s hands.

This spring RadioLab did a story about an ancient skull and the questions it helped answer about the origins of human history. It is a fascinating story, but it revolved around minute details scientists discovered in the skull, details a radio audience couldn’t see. So the RadioLab team took a scan of the skull, printed it out with a 3D printer, and made the scan available online for others to print out. So, now you could hypothetically feel the groves and markings on the skull as the scientists discuss them, discovering new facets of the skull alongside the narrators.

I am fascinated by the potential for these sorts of journalism-objects to help engage communities around stories and foster empathy with audiences. So I began collecting examples of what I call, “hands on journalism.”

I see this hands-on journalism as a particular kind of community engagement, one that may involve collaboration with community, but puts an emphasis on discovery and learning. Specifically the kind of learning that comes from doing. Continue reading

Of Guns and Seeds

A while back I did a few posts on guerrilla gardening and guerrilla harvesting that included terms like “seed bomb” (a ball of dirt with seeds in it that one lobs into empty lots in urban areas). At the time, while reviewing links and articles about these topic I stumbled on two odd projects that combine guns and seeds in unexpected ways.

From the Plant the Piece website.

From the Plant the Piece website.

The first was a project called “Plant the Piece” in which the artist created “Seed Guns” made out of “red clay, dry organic compost, and a mixture of annual-perennial species of wildflowers native and naturalized to any area, they can grow when left directly on the surface of the ground.” From the description of the project:

In 2004, the Richmond, Virginia homicide total reached 101. That same year, the traveling art installation, Plant The Piece, memorialized each murder victim by creating a “Gun”. As venues became available, ten original installations containing “Guns” were erected and the public was able to view an unfortunate statistic in an extraordinary light. The exhibit was inspired by the techniques and philosophies of Japanese radical gardener Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Each installation was a unique reflection of it’s host venue and audience. The traveling exhibit was enormously successful as it tackled a most sensitive matter that had no apparent solution. Continue reading