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.

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.”

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.

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.
(CIR’s Cole Goins also recommended their mapped report on wait-times at veterans offices:

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.

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.

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. 

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A Christmas Carol for a Warming Planet

My uncle Chris Atkins is a great satirist who posted this alternative version of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” on Facebook last year. It seems just as relevant today – maybe more so…

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like April
(sung to the tune “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”)

It’s beginning to look a lot like April
I may come unglued
There are sandals on shoppers’ feet
No one has used the heat
And everybody’s in a cranky mood
It’s beginning to look a lot like April
Steamy sweaty stores
But the ugliest sight to see
Is the soaring mercury
Feels like Bangalore.
A pair of shorts and a tee shirt and new Birkenstocks
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Look at the forecast on weather dot com
Buy some skorts for Janice and Jen
Did Fox just say there’s no such thing as climate change again?

It’s beginning to look a lot like April
Everywhere you go
There’s a plant in the living room
That looks like it’s going to bloom
I sure would like to see a little snow
It’s beginning to look a lot like April
Fifty-five’s the low
Glad the kiddies are out of school
We’ll do Christmas by the pool
And we’ll dream of snow

From Instagram to Open Journalism: Towards Public Space Online

Instagram’s Terms of Service changes are the most recent in a long string of events that remind us of the deal we make when we embrace “free” commercial platforms online. As one person put it – if your aren’t paying, you are the product, not the customer. Plenty has already been written about the changes, what they may or may not mean, and now Instragram is going back to the drawing board and revising at least the framing if not the rules themselves.

However, rather than wait for Instragram to get it right (or perhaps wait to be disappointed when they continue to get it wrong), perhaps we should think about making something different. Maybe it’s time to get serious about creating more community-driven noncommercial public space on the web.

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Building a Stronger Foundation for Press Freedom and Accountability Journalism in a Digital Age

Today I’m part of an incredible team launching a new project focused on strengthening nonprofit news and accountability journalism.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is unique in its scope, its substance and its style. The Foundation is rooted in the idea that, while the structures of journalism are changing, the critical role of journalism in our democracy is not. It will fund critical and cutting edge work by nonprofit journalism organizations, transparency and watchdog groups and independent journalists.

This project builds on some of the key threads I’ve been working on and writing about for years and addresses three key problems head on: Continue reading

A Solutions Journalism Response to Gun Violence

Today on Twitter I asked “What would a journalism dedicated to helping communities solve complex social and political issues look like? Who is already doing it?”

This, to me, is the question we face as the nation tries to not only come to terms with the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, but also look ahead at how we can respond. Already we are seeing demands for a national conversation about gun violence, for new gun control legislation, even for a repeal of the second amendment. On the surface all of these seem like simple solutions, but in reality they are composed of a complex and interwoven web of policy, beliefs, and culture.

In a post from a year ago Jonathan Stray asked a similar question about journalism and problem solving. He observed that “The modern world is built on a series of vast systems, intricate combinations of people and machines, but our journalism isn’t really built to help us understand them. It’s not a journalism for the people who will put together the next generation of civic institutions.”

At the time he was writing about the global financial crisis, but the quote above could just as easily apply to violence in America. His post sparked a conversation about solutions journalism, a theme he returned to earlier this year. “I see the solution journalist as responsible for the process of public discussion by which problems are defined and turned into plans for the future. This is the moderator’s role.”

At times like this, we need good moderators of public debate, we need caring facilitators of challenging conversations, and we need newsrooms that can create space for communities to talk to each other. I’m not talking about online comments on newspaper websites, I’m talking about a much deeper form of community engagement. Continue reading

Hearts and Fists: A Parent on Loving, Fighting and Gun Control

Bill Maher is wrong. It’s as simple as that.

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In a Facebook post hours after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the often provocative talk show host wrote, “Sorry but prayers and giving your kids hugs fix nothing: only having the balls to stand up to our insane selfish gun culture will.”

And Maher wasn’t alone. In the hours that followed the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary I saw that sentiment echoed across the web. “Stop being sentimental and starting fighting,” people seemed to be saying.

I’m a parent of young children, one of which is almost in elementary school himself. My first response when I heard about the shooting was to hold my family close and tight. In that moment I never wanted to let go.

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Support Journalism That Matters – Tweet Your Giving

If you believe in nonprofit journalism, it is time to support it. And if you support nonprofit journalism it’s time to go public with that support.

Tweet @jcstearns: Tell me what journalism nonprofits you donate to and why. Then tag it #give4news.

npjringI’ll choose two of my favorite responses and will donate to those newsrooms as well. Plus I’ll give those two people subscriptions to one of two great nonprofit journalism magazines – Orion Magazine and Mother Jones.

(Also, please consider a donation to a group that fights for press freedom – more on that below)

We are at an exciting moment when it is now possible to imagine nonprofit journalism becoming a much more prominent part of America’s media ecosystem. But to make the leap from start-up to sustainability we need to step up our support for nonprofit news and encourage others to do the same.

Other than donating to their public broadcasting stations, for the most part people are not used to donating to support the journalism they get in their inbox or their mailbox, in their Twitter stream or via their Facebook wall. That has to change.

Nonprofit journalism comes in all shapes and sizes: all-volunteer local community radio stations, data driven government watchdogs, big investigative newsrooms, online streaming operations and more. What they all share is that they can’t survive on grants alone.

Foundations have helped to jump start nonprofit journalism but communities are going to be what sustains it over the long haul. Let’s start now.

(Nonprofit journalism also faces a range of threats – from first amendment battles to jumping through hoops at the IRS – if you want to fund the fight to defend and expand nonprofit media consider a donation to Free Press. At Free Press we work every day to fight for the public’s rights, for policies that support quality journalism, and to ensure all people have access to an open and free Internet.)

Use this link to tweet now: Tweet Your Giving

Why I Work For Better Media

I believe that people have a right to demand better media, a responsibility to fight for better media and the capacity to help create better media.

And I believe this fight is critical to every other issue we care about, from education to the environment, but it is also critical to our democracy. If we believe in a government of the people, for the people and by the people, we need a media that can help make that possible.

At Free Press my work is focused on fostering press freedom, protecting public media, supporting nonprofit journalism and fighting media consolidation. Those are grand aspirations, but on a day-to-day basis a lot of the work I do is inspired my by two sons. Continue reading