GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott recently spoke to CJR about his news outlet’s recent partnering with MediaStorm for their multimedia story package on Afghanistan, called “Life, Death and the Taliban”—the first of what Sennott hopes will be many in-depth, online packages for the fledgling foreign news outlet. The series takes the Afghanistan’s pulse at a time when the country is poised to see major changes following its hotly contested presidential election and the heightened U.S. military presence there. It includes five audio/video slideshows, an interactive timeline and five in-depth written pieces on subjects including counterinsurgency, Taliban funding, a school founded by an American woman who lost her son on 9/11 and an Afghan family’s struggles over fifteen years. Besides collaborating with MediaStorm founder Brian Storm, Sennott also teamed up with Afghanistan-based photographer Seamus Murphy and GlobalPost correspondents Jean MacKenzie and Shahan Mufti.
Alexandra Fenwick: How time-intensive was the production of this story package?
Charles Sennott: I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan for most of June and then wrote it most of July and then launched it in August [11th]. I think our metabolism is so fast that spending six to eight weeks on a project in Web land is considered unbelievably long, but in print land it’s barely scratching the surface.
AF: You wrote an essay in the March/April issue of CJR about the launch of GlobalPost, explaining your background as a print journalist taking a gamble on the future of news in this new online format. Are you sold on the multimedia format and what was it like to work with the MediaStorm team?
CS: I know [MediaStorm founder] Brian Storm through his work for several years and first started to follow his work when I started to do multimedia at the Boston Globe. I invited him formally to GlobalPost about six months ago, right when we were in the early phase of our launch, with an eye toward bringing him in as a consultant and developer on a special project at some point and “Life, Death, and the Taliban” afforded that opportunity. I feel like with Brian we’re speaking the same language of what we want to try to achieve.
A lot of times the difficulty and struggle when you’re dealing with extremely talented Web developers is that they don’t necessarily understand the long-form of journalism and they don’t understand the balance between video, the written word, and still photography, and what kind of environments we need to create in order for them all to come together with each of them being honored in their own way. And I really think that is the best part of this project we did. That is, it really was a collaboration with Brian in the sense that he listened to what I hoped to achieve with this project, which is to have that balance, to have video, but to also have the power of the written word and good reporting from the ground and great still photography and working across those platforms in a way that is intuitive for users of the site, but also a good guide for walking them through a very complex story.
I don’t know that there is a more complex story that we have to cover in the world than Afghanistan. It is just one of those places where we really need to present stories that provide all those shades of gray and bring us inside the complexity of the place if we’re going to understand it in a way that we can actually have some kind of enlightenment on what’s going on over there.
AF: What were some of the technical challenges of doing this piece?
CS: The idea is to connect the video as a tease to draw you into the written stories and then get you deeper and deeper and more and more layered into the story, and also for the podcast crowd, to offer this partnership with PRI’s The World. I did forty minutes of radio for them—I did four ten-minute pieces. In terms of workflow, we’re trying to come up with a multimedia workflow across platforms. In this one, we did audio as radio pieces for The World, and four ten-minute pieces is a lot of radio. Pretty much like doing a documentary on the Taliban.