In addition to dishing out trophies to the best of the best digital journalists from this past year, the 2015 Online Journalism Awards last week also hosted a series of presentations touching on important issues regarding the future of the industry. The keynote We Belong Here: Pushing Back Against Online Harassment engaged an expert panel in a conversation that may not be easy to have but is a privilege to be able to ignore.
These women were dynamic and inspiring. They immediately confronted the reality of pervasive, gendered harassment online for female journalists and how it is relevant to wider issues of oppression. They all shared stories of abuse that they have faced publicly in their Internet workplace and agreed that the severity of this problem is not questioned in the slightest by those who experience it every day.
The speakers were Soraya Chemaly, Dr. Michelle Ferrier, Amanda Hess and Laurie Penny, all superstar women who have worked to combat online harassment through personal essays, reporting, policy research, working with social media companies and building tools. Sarah Jeong moderated the discussion.
The language and rhetoric of online harassment is important. The speakers generally agreed that a working definition of online harassment that captures the essence of the serious damage it causes is the first step to addressing the problem. “We haven’t really defined those terms… and it’s important for us to decide on to make meaningful change,” Hess said. Input from the panel on what constitutes online harassment included extortion, stalking, impersonation, invasion of privacy, sustained sexual harassment, bodily harm, economic damage, silencing, intimidation and organized hate speech. Penny emphasized how online harassment has a “real impact on our sense of physical safety, our mental health and our ability to continue working” and the “emotional overhead costs” of being a female journalist. Using direct and explicit rhetoric around online harassment make it more difficult to dismiss its importance. “Not using the right language to describe what we’re talking about hurts us,” Chemaly said.
Online harassment is indicative of wider oppression in the media and in society. “Until we deal with the offline suppression of speech that results from violence against women, and connect it to what we’re talking about, we’re not going to move very far,” Chemaly said. All of the panelists connected online harassment to bigger societal issues of diversity and power structures expressed through organized hate and perpetuating a misogynistic rape culture. Ferrier spoke to her experience receiving threatening hate mail that caused her to switch career paths that was directly connected to both her gender and her race. “A woman’s opinion is like the short skirt of the Internet… If you flaunt it then you deserve everything that you get,” Penny said when describing the attitude of placing responsibility on women for the abuse they receive. They agreed that harassment is not happenstance or random. It's a systematic effort to suppress previously marginalized voices from the public space of the Internet, they said.
There is a direct correlation between online harassment and free speech. According to the panel, addressing online harassment in a meaningful way should be approached with a sense of urgency within the journalism community because it will affect the makeup of our media in the future. “We cannot continue to call ourselves journalists when we do not have a system in place that allows for diverse voices, gendered voices, people of different ethnicities to be able to speak out on the issues that are important to them,” Ferrier said in a call to action regarding the detrimental effects of online harassment. “If we don’t act as if this threat is something that is going to tear the very fabric of our democracy, if we as journalists don’t fix this and understand the impact of it, we are going to see the ripple effects of it for many years to come.”
This conversation was heavy. The panelists spoke to the potential that the Internet holds if the right structures are put in place to end harassment. As a young, female journalist, it was great to hear how the rules for digital journalism are still being written and how we have the chance to create a safe, welcoming space to appreciate the new, diverse voices of the future rather than shut them down.
The pope's time in the U.S. was monumental, and the media was there to follow, borderline stalk and document his every second of his trip. Satirical news outlets like The Onion put their unique spin on this historic papal visit with a hilarious series of photos. Major outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN had whole sections of their websites dedicated to the occasion. Stories across the web ranged from Black Lives Matter to the societal implications of marriage to animal rights. Out of the abundance of stories, it was difficult to sift through the overused hashtags to choose the highlights or what I deemed most important. So instead, I decided to feature a wide variety of some of the more eclectic, unique and interesting angles to the pope's coverage, while still managing to include the key points of his visit. This is what stuck out to me over six days, from 12 different news outlets, using 12 different kinds of digital storytelling. This is my attempt to convey what they're saying about Pope Francis. Hopefully it's a little more fun than some of the typical news sites!
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 1,000 times: if you want to become a good writer, you need to read good writing. That notion is also worth expanding to: if you want to become a good journalist, you need to engage with good digital journalism. The 2015 Online Journalism Awards provide an opportunity to do just that. I loved nerding out and getting sucked into these excellent examples of new age storytelling. Before the winners are selected this weekend, I decided to highlight which pieces are some of my favorites and why they should win their respective categories.
Knight Award for Public Service: BBC WhatsApp Ebola News Service
The BBC WhatsApp Ebola News Service blew me away. To expand its programming on Ebola, the BBC used the channel of WhatsApp to post content three times a day with the intention of reducing the virus' spread and keeping people informed on help available to them. To me, this project was trailblazing in the way that it explored a new territory of journalism working directly in humanitarian crises. It is especially impressive to me how conscious the BBC was of the communities it was catering to. After having studied in Ghana and witnessing how popular and widespread WhatsApp is in the region, I feel it was a brilliant decision to work through mobile phones and use the app. I also think it demonstrates smart strategy to have avoided video content so that people with limited access to cellular data would still have access to the lifesaving information being pushed out by the BBC. The last component that makes this project so special and important for the future of journalism is the way that interaction with its audience was able to shape and improve its coverage. The BBC was able to adjust its approach according to advice from people experiencing the crisis firsthand, which is groundbreaking insight into covering similar crises in the future and empowering the role of the media for social good.
Honorable mention: The personal videos, graphics and photos combined with the extensive data, statistics and policy analysis of The Post and the Courier's "Til Death Do Us Part" exposed a disturbing reality in Virginia worth noting.
Breaking News, Medium: Baltimore Riots
The idea of breaking new ground seemed to be a common theme among these truly innovative Online Journalism Award finalists. For example, I think that Mashable's coverage of the Baltimore riots and similar styles of reporting are shifting the paradigm of how the media reports events as they unfold in real time. Mashable's work on the riots took the idea of the 24-hour news cycle to a whole new level and wins the category of breaking news in my book. Its use of social media platforms such as Vine, Twitter and Periscope to keep the public in the know with what was really going down in Baltimore following Freddie Gray's funeral was fascinating and well-executed. The reporters continued to find new and interesting angles each day to thoroughly cover different dynamics of what was happening from the perspective of a wide variety of key stakeholders. I appreciated the quality of journalism that was able to come out of these live counts on social media with the help of teams of editors working non-stop on each coast of the country processing what was happening each day. This type of coverage is characteristic of and foundational to the 2015 identity and definition of digital journalism.
Honorable mention: The Baltimore Sun also generated extraordinary content during the riots, and the New York Times use of well-designed interactive graphics in the story "Germanwings" including elaborate maps and timelines should be acknowledged.
Planned News/Events, Large: The Senate Report on the CIA's Interrogation Program
I remember the day this story was published. A friend posted it on her Facebook page, and I can vividly recall the strange juxtaposition of my feelings. I remember feeling bummed out but also exhilarated. The findings in the report--especially point 14--upset me, but the way The Washington Post presented the information made me think, "This is SO COOL." To me, this story embodies one of journalism's oldest roles: facilitating the function of democracy and holding government institutions accountable. It simplified something so seemingly dense and complicated, and it made technical jargon easily accessible to the average American. If I could personally hand The Washington Post a gold medal for this one, I would.
Explanatory Reporting, Medium: What Does Gun Violence Really Cost?
By looking at the economic toll of gun violence, Mother Jones approached a hot-button issue from a pragmatic angle that has not been explicitly explored before. The research and data used put gun violence in the same context of other things we spend money on as a country, which heightens the urgency of the problem in the political realm. An issue like gun violence is seen almost indisputably as a devastating human problem, but with these hard statistics, it is now able to be seen in public discourse as an economic problem as well. It is more difficult for an issue to seem like an ambiguous enigma with a number like $229 million attached to it. Mother Jones' piece also exposes the political reasons for an absence of other recent research on gun violence in the U.S., which further raises concern about the way the issue is being addressed nationwide. In the process of telling a story around numbers, Mother Jones managed to never lose the human aspect, keeping personal stories central.
Online Commentary, Small: Dispatches from Syria, Marcell Shehwaro on Life in Aleppo
This piece enthralled me immediately upon realizing the unique perspective being shared authentically in a way usually unavailable to the public. The insight that Marcell Shehwaro was able to provide as someone with personal stake in the Syrian conflict is invaluable, especially in the way that she was able to express her experiences so vulnerably. Through this piece, the audience was able to connect with those affected by the conflict in Syria on the most human level, which also enabled the reader to realize the severity of the situation as one that robs people of their humanity every day.
This paragraph left such an impression on me: “I don't know what my feelings are, exactly, but at this moment I fully understand the cry of all the victims who are calling for revenge. And I understand how everything loses value when you deal with death on a daily basis. I know how learning to adapt gives you greater reverence for death than for life. In our days, which have all become similar to each other, death has become the norm and life the exception.”
How could you read that and feel okay about what’s going on in Syria and the international community's lack of meaningful action?
Student Projects, Pro-AM: Assault on Justice
This project handled a hot-button issue like police/community relations with care right from the start. I love the imagery used in the lead for this story. Some of its other noteworthy strengths are its easy access points to the most relevant information and the attractive, understandable graphics that powerfully illustrate the issues at hand.
Honorable mention: The graphics for Loud Austin--The Live Music Capital with a Loud Music Problem were incredible and deserving of some props.
The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium: Undue Force
This year, due to circumstances that landed the city in the national spotlight, The Baltimore Sun had the opportunity to contribute majorly to the national conversation around police brutality, misconduct and relations with communities. They really stepped up to the plate, even long before they were put under the spotlight. This story is the inside look at how serious the issue of police brutality is in Baltimore, answering many questions that surfaced around the time that Freddie Gray began getting national attention. The kicker is, it was written more than six months prior to Gray's arrest and details research that was conducted over the six months before that. The Sun does a great job of looking at how the problem affects the city as a whole, zooming in on people ranging from grandmothers to teenagers and not limiting its scope to one specific incident. Interactive graphics show areas where incidents occurred. The story forebodes the effect of police misconduct on citizens' trust of police and brings up the need to fire offending officers. It is sad that The Sun was able to predict something so terrible happening to its city, but in many ways, it is remarkable.
The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large: Evicted and Abandoned: the World Bank's Broken Promises to the Poor
The Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Huffington Post did an excellent job of telling an essential piece of a story that is generally always excluded. In the narrative of international development, negative effects of major international bodies are not often discussed in a way that average people would understand or engage in. This story broke down a huge topic that most people don't know a ton about, the World Bank, by explaining basically what it sets out to do while also emphasizing its fatal flaws in carrying out development projects that often go unnoticed. They were able to communicate this complex story of international geopolitics effectively in a way that readers could connect to by using anecdotes, photos and videos to put faces to those affected by destructive development projects. The wider problem was simplified further by breaking it into case studies of specific countries in specific contexts each looking at a specific type of issue. These kinds of issues can seem far away and irrelevant to readers, but this story drew people into its importance.
All of the finalists for the 2015 Online Journalism Awards make meaningful contributions to the field in the new ways they use different digital platforms and also in the substance of the content they address. Learning from the best will hopefully help me to grow as a digital journalist, which is exciting. But, the hope that these stories give me for the future of journalism and its potential to grow in its ability and capacity to improve the world we share is even more exciting news for us all.
All 12 chairs in #Loweclass were full a few minutes earlier than usual on Monday in anticipation of our guest. After reading about her past two visits to Marquette and hearing Professor Lowe brag on his wife, we were pumped to meet Mira Lowe for ourselves.
Mira Lowe is the senior editor for features at CNN Digital. She took time out her hectic schedule to give us some insider tips. Her bright sweater and gentle but authoritative voice commanded my attention, but the stark portraits she projected on the screen to begin her presentation sucked me in.
The captivating faces were part of a digital journalism package that Mira Lowe showed us called The Loneliest Club. She used this project to teach several important concepts.
Covering an event well requires thinking ahead.
The most important question that Mira Lowe encouraged us to think about before covering an event is, "How do I want this to look?" She recommended identifying who will be there and interviewing people before the event, utilizing photos and videos to make the story feel personal and intimate in a way that could not be found anywhere else.
CNN has a voice.
Mira Lowe described CNN's approach to digital journalism as telling "personal stories that connect people to issues." This resonated with me because it is the essence of why I love journalism. She reminded us that people feel connected to other people, and when they feel connected to someone's story, they can feel more engaged in the issue the piece addresses. I loved hearing that a major news outlet still strives for the purest form of journalism, giving voices to those who would otherwise be unheard and bringing important issues to the public's attention. The Loneliest Club allowed people who have been affected by gun violence to tell their own stories, which is another key aspect of CNN's voice and goal of remaining objective.
"Let people tell their stories, and there's no politics in that," Mira Lowe said.
Taking on big stories can seem overwhelming, but Mira Lowe said telling individual stories is a way to start small. She said the project can grow to include more in-depth, data-based coverage.
With a new age comes a new standard of storytelling.
With The Loneliest Club, Mira Lowe was able to showcase the multimedia dimension of good digital journalism. She said that her team aims to make each piece engaging through the use of video, photos and compelling graphics. She demonstrated how portraits, pull quotes and short vignettes were an effective means of engaging the audience in the example story. Mira Lowe emphasized that the prominence of mobile news should always be on our minds, and that we should be actively using social media to increase the reach of our work.
"Take ownership of the pathway of your work, and make sure people can see it," she said.
For a girl who has a hard time deciding what to eat for breakfast, anything that demands articulating something as major as my intended career path is daunting. The task of creating a digital portfolio and professional brand was intimidating to say the least. How would a simple website be able to communicate things about myself that I can’t even organize in my own head? But the process of refreshing materials such as my twitter, LinkedIn profile, resume and cover letter proved to be relatively painless and even a little fun.
Updating my LinkedIn page was long overdue, but the help of simple suggestions such as those on the College Student LinkedIn Profile Checklist made the professional networking site less scary. Tips like including relevant coursework, my student organizations and volunteer commitments made my profile feel full and well rounded. Combining all of my experiences onto one platform began to make my professional journey seem more coherent. My involvement in the city of Milwaukee through both local internships and extracurriculars shows my priorities of relationship building and investing in my community at a grassroots level. My experiences abroad and courses of study demonstrate my interest in the global community and belief in interconnectedness. And the overarching theme revealed itself as my passion for storytelling as a way to promote empathy and a more just world.
Compiling my resume allowed me to even better tell my story in a more succinct way. Looking through examples of students who have gone before me, I was so impressed but also discouraged by what seemed like my lack of experience. But in the process of polishing up my one page professional summary, I realized that my experiences have been invaluable in making me the person I am today, shaping what inspires me and where I want to go.
The most difficult part of writing a cover letter was selecting a specific position to apply for because I still have a hard time answering the basic question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Professor Lowe’s step-by-step process was a huge help in conquering the task though. By the end I felt like I had more to offer than I thought.
As a believer in the power of words, it was no surprise that the process of telling my own story empowered me to feel much more prepared to take on the exciting professional world in front of me!
I am a senior studying journalism and international affairs at Marquette University. I am a Milwaukee-dweller and a storyteller passionate about exploring the intersection between community-building and communication. I'd love for you to learn alongside me!