The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2013

In 2012 I posted a round-up of the best online journalism of the year, which grew as others added their favorites. My list focused on journalism that could only be done online, the kind of storytelling that take advantage of the unique opportunities the Internet provides. This tended to be deeply visual reporting that wove together text, audio, images and videos.

As I created my 2013 list however, I saw much more data journalism and an increasing use of tools that engaged readers or rethought the basic flow of storytelling for a more participatory audience.

The ghosts of the New York Time’s “Snow Fall” article from 2012 haunted debates about online journalism in 2013 – it even became a verb. Joe Pompeo, the media reporter at Capital New York, defined “snowfalling” this way: “To execute the type of expensive, time-consuming, longform narrative multimedia storytelling that earned the Times’ ambitious ‘Snow Fall’ feature a Pulitzer last month.”

But 2013 also saw innovative journalists and newsroom developers taking interactive, multimedia storytelling in new directions too. And while I don’t cover them in-depth below, there were

Be sure to also check out the Online Journalism Award winners, which includes a number of amazing projects not listed here. And, in terms of a meta look at the field, I think Eric Newton’s “Searchlights and Sunglasses” is both a critical tool for rethinking journalism education and a model of online storytelling itself.

As in 2012, consider this list a provocation, a challenge to you to fill in the blanks and tell me what I missed. This list is by its nature biased around topics and people I followed this year, I don’t suggest it is comprehensive, so please take advantage of the comments section to add your favorites (or send me a note on Twitter).

The Guardian: NSA Files Decoded

After six months of nearly weekly revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance in the US and around the world, the Guardian recognized that they needed to help people understand the implications, connections, and impact of this news. Weaving together video interviews, text, source documents, timelines and interactive tools, NSA Files Decoded tries to give each reader a sense for what these stories mean for them.

Washington Post: The Black Budget

Using documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Washington Post created an incredible site to document the secret spending that powers US surveillance operations. The Washington Post team paired deep reporting with a series of interactive graphics that let people drill down into the details and illuminate the size and scope of this issue. (See also the great video, graphic and reporting from the Washington Post on NSA Cell Phone Tracking.)

NPR: Planet Money Makes a Shirt

This project was born of the Internet, launched and funded through an astoundingly successful Kickstarter campaign, NPR’s effort to report on the globalization of our economic system through the lens on one shirt had incredible momentum from the start. The final product, which included a week’s worth of stories on NPR’s flagship news broadcasts, also featured an incredible website with text, audio and video from around the globe.

Todd Melby – Black Gold Boom

Produced by independent journalist Todd Melby for Prairie Public Media as part of the AIR Localore project Black Gold Boom is an incredible look at the changing lives and landscapes of North Dakota. Pulling together innovative tools like Zeega with video, images, audio and community engagement the project is captivating. (See also the collection of stories, profiles, data and more that covers a huge range of issues around coal in the Pacific Northwest by EarthFix)

The Guardian – Firestorm

The starting place for this investigation was one photograph, an image of the Holmes family taking shelter amidst a bushfire in Tasmania. From there the Guardian created a powerful account of what happened to their family and the community around them. It is a moving full screen documentary combining video, images, audio and text.

New York Times: Invisible Child

The New York Times ended the year with a powerful multi-part story on child homelessness in New York City. Online, the story is accompanied by stunning photography and rich graphics on NYC poverty, but the videos are at the bottom of each section, not woven into the text itself. At the bottom of each “chapter” you can view videos of interviews, source notes and selected documents. (See also the Time’s big report on Benghazi, and their piece on the NYC courts, The Jockey and America’s Cup: Racing Above the Water)

Mother Jones: America Under the Gun

In Mother Jones’ package of stories from the last year they weave together a wide array of issues related to gun violence from mass shootings to the Trayvon Martin shooting, looking at the connections and underlying issues. Rich with data, visuals and a huge dose of muckraking accountability journalism, the package of stories is one of the most comprehensive resources on guns in America.

Powering A Nation: Over Water Under Fire

Created by a team of UNC journalism students and News21 journalism fellows, this project combines a video, motion graphics and text to explore water resources in the US through the lens of the Colorado River. (Be sure to also see last year’s Powering a Nation project: 100 Gallons)

Digital First Media: Firearms in the Family

While the Mother Jones coverage above tries to tackle guns from many angles, Digital First Media chose one specific lens and went focused on telling the stories of young people and families whose “lives have been changed, for better or worse, by guns.” Reporters traveled the country and combined videos and text in a compelling look at the personal stories behind the politics of guns. (Submitted by @YvonneLeow)

The Tennessean: Because of You

On the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, the Tennessean told the story of the civil rights struggle through the voices and profiles of local people. Journalists combined terrific interviews, photos, maps and timelines with a call to the community to add their own stories.

Updates and Additions

ProPublica: Use Only As Directed

In a landmark story on acetaminophen the team at ProPublica showed the power of the Internet to tell important stories but also to help journalism provide a valuable service. The story includes guides to acetaminophen packaging, graphics, videos, data features and engagement elements.

Boston Globe: The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev 

Two stories wrapped into one, the Fall of theHouse of Tsarnaev was the Boston Globe’s attempt to answer some of the biggest questions behind the Boston marathon bombing. It was an exhaustive investigation full of historic photos of the family, original illustrations and video. (See also the Globe’s nine month investigation into the taxi trade: Driven to the Edge)

20 thoughts on “The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2013

  1. Lauren Martin says:

    Great list, Josh! My (admittedly biased) list would also include The Crowded Desert (http://tennant-creek.theglobalmail.org/), Behind the Wire: A Graphic Portrait of Life in Detention (http://behindthewire.theglobalmail.org/), The Town the Wouldn’t Disappear (bulga.theglobalmail.org), and Hussain’s Journey (http://hussains-journey.theglobalmail.org) – among the strong multimedia storytelling work out of the small philanthropically funded site for journalism in the public interest based in Sydney, Australia (also some great open-government data tools such as partylines.theglobalmail.org)

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