When The New York Times published “Snow Fall,” its celebrated multimedia narrative extravaganza, in late 2012, the project sparked a ton of future-of-news buzz (along with the inevitable backlash). But in the months that followed, other projects that looked and felt like “Snow Fall”—from The Washington Post, Grantland, and the Times—followed a similar pattern: they focused on stories about sports, or some sort of outdoor adventure. And they came from big, or at least well-resourced, newsrooms.
But if there were assumptions taking hold about what this sort of storytelling is good for, or what sort of newsroom can pull it off, they were upset earlier this fall, when Charlottesville, VA-based C-Ville Weekly—circulation about 25,000, monthly unique visitors about 50,000—published “The Road.” A wonky, detailed but compelling multimedia project, “The Road” details a decades-long fight over a proposed highway bypass in the paper’s region, and attempts to reset the public debate at a crucial point in the decision-making process.
The fruit of a collaboration with local web design firm Vibethink, “The Road” is sort of “Snow Fall-lite” in terms of the complexity of its design (which may actually make it easier to digest). It weaves together audio of public meetings; original and borrowed video, graphics, and maps; a long text article; an innovative commenting feature, and even editorial cartoons into an elegant, ambitious package that one reviewer called “exhaustive, but not, despite its wonkish policy implications, exhausting.” And because of the partnership with Vibethink,C-Ville was able to pull off the project on a low, low budget.
In September, CJR’s Corey Hutchins spoke with C-Ville editor Giles Morris and Ryan DeRose of Vibethink about “The Road” via Google Hangout. They were joined by Joshua Hatch, senior editor for data and interactives at the Chronicle for Higher Education and a co-chair of the Online News Association’s Online Journalism Awards. Edited clips of the conversation, which include screenshots from “The Road” used with permission, appear below; the full unedited video is at the end of this post.
In this first clip, Morris talks about why C-Ville chose a long-running transportation debate as the subject of a big multimedia feature:
Here, DeRose describes how Vibethink’s technical process was integrated with C-Ville’s editorial work:
In the next clip, Hatch talks about how to make multimedia elements core to the story—not as optional add-ons, but “paragraphs” in the narrative:
Long-running policy debates get covered incrementally, of course—but that sort of coverage can be impenetrable and unappealing to people who aren’t part of the fight. Hatch and Morris discuss how a creative, attention-grabbing package can spur local engagement:
What does the drive to take on a project like this in a small, hyperlocal newsroom come from? Here’s Morris:
So how many people read this thing—and is that the best measure for whether it was “worth it”? What are other ways to measure and create impact and engagement?
It wouldn’t have been possible without Vibethink as a partner—which kept the cash costs to C-Ville low. It’s hard to hear on the audio, but they’re saying “$3,000.”
As for whether they made any many on the project…
Finally, here’s the full, unedited conversation:
Staff writer Greg Marx contributed to this post. Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.