News21 is a national project that encourages and supports new forms of investigative reporting and storytelling. The venture — funded by a Carnegie and Knight initiative — includes eight "incubator" universities, where students hone their reporting and digital skills in the classroom, then follow up with hands-on reporting in the field.
Many of the multimedia projects I've seen produced by News21 fellows shine in terms of the photojournalism, audio gathering, and multimedia storytelling. Below are stories from two News21 projects — in one, the pace is slow and thoughtful; in another, the emotion is raw and powerful — but both are equally effective in their approach. Where many multimedia projects fail because of poor audio and editing, these pieces get it right. The audio is clean and compelling, and it blends seamlessly with the visuals to propel the story forward.
Juliette Lynch was part of the Syracuse University News21 team that went to Republic, Wash., for 6 1/2 weeks this summer to document the lives of veterans. The area is home to many vets who have purposely sought the isolation, peace and solitude of the remote landscape. Their stories are featured on the site — apartfromwar.org.
Lynch, along with reporter Justin Murphy, told the story of Jerry Middleton — a vet who had worked as a driver in Vietnam. The experience was so haunting that it took him almost 40 years to recover. He now spends his time planting trees on his land in Washington.
Interviews with Middleton became the basis of Lynch's multimedia piece "All That Lingers." She used audio from the interviews, layering it with photos and videos to help show a portrait of a damaged, yet healing man.
"The more time I spend with someone, the more comfortable they get with me, and the more comfortable I get with them," says Lynch. "I want to do justice to the person."
Students from a University of North Carolina News21 team covered the story of one family in Venice, La., — a small fishing community located just 50 miles from source of the BP oil spill. In their video, "Spilling Over," producers Jessey Dearing and Lauren Frohne, along with Elena Rue and Mike Ehrlich, told the story of the Arnesen family, and the choices the family had to make after the disaster, for the site poweringanation.org.
Their documentary takes viewers deep into the heart of a community, showing how the national disaster has deeply affected people on a local level. Kindra Arnesen and her husband, David, are presented grappling with a decision about sending their children away from Venice to escape possible health risks from the spill. The scene is played out on a split screen as they talk on the phone, and the emotional impact of the moment is punctuated when Kindra and the kids leave David behind to work for BP cleaning up the oil.
"The biggest thing I learned was not just how to be a photographer or a videographer on a story, but how to be a reporter," said Frohne. "We were worried that some people would end up pushing us away. But for the most part, because of the rapport we built with people, a lot of them were OK with it, and that was a new experience for all of us."
"This is a project for them," said Dearing. "This isn't our project; it's their project. It's their story."
These stories are just a small sampling of the News21 work from this past summer. To see the full scope of the work from all eight universities, visit News21.com.