1) “Lost in the Long White Cloud,” by Charles Anderson of Fairfax Media, New Zealand. Anderson’s “Snow Fall”-inspired multimedia narrative artfully chronicles a modern-day search for George Hood and John Moncrieff, New Zealand pilots whose plane vanished on Jan. 10, 1928, as they attempted the first trans-Tasman Sea flight from Australia to New Zealand. Fairfax published the project with photos, maps, illustrations and a splash-page video on a loop: Whereas “Snow Fall” showed snow blowing across a mountain slope, Anderson’s piece moves the reader through clouds. An excerpt:
Hood and Moncrieff would have to rely on “dead reckoning” to calculate their position. That meant using information they already knew – wind speeds and previous fixed positions – to deduce how their flight path had been influenced by the elements. Dead reckoning, though, was subject to cumulative mistakes. If you made one small miscalculation you could quickly compound an error. Some navigators joked that its derivation came from “dead wrong”.
Still, on the test flight which transferred the plane from Melbourne to the Richmond Aerodrome in Sydney, any concern about the mission was downplayed. Inside the Aotearoa was a small rubber dinghy, a pair of oars and some chocolate. To lessen any fears for their safety, Moncrieff inflated the dinghy at Richmond, got in and posed for a photograph. But if the plane was to crash at sea there was little chance its inhabitants would survive.
Anderson kindly gave us the back story on the project:
So I’m a New Zealand based journalist* who has worked around the World. I really want to be doing more of this sort of thing , so this was an experiment, especially as New Zealand isn’t particularly renowned for longer pure narrative pieces. It started as a small article about two years ago in a regional paper mentioning this unnamed pig hunter’s supposed find and what it might mean. For a time I was very into historical mystery narratives brought into the present day, and this rang a big bell. I followed it through, liaising with the head of the operation to make sure when they went searching I went with them, bringing along a photog/videographer.
Then last December, surprise, surprise: I saw (the New York Times‘) “Snow Fall” and said, “Yep, I wanna do something like that.” Come February, the search came around and we joined along and managed to get all the graphics that they used to actually conduct the search. It wasn’t until after, and I had a draft, that I pitched it to Fairfax Media NZ’s digital editor, Sinead Boucher, as a long multimedia narrative. She had been wanting to do something like this for a time but needed the right story. By this stage I had much of the old material: photographs, clippings, maps, etc. We had an interview with the last remaining relative and all the footage from the search with the graphics. Put together, you could kind of see it unfolding.
I also enlisted Tom Shroder, who I had heard of a few years ago. I always thought it would be cool to get him to edit my work. He was behind Gene Weingarten’s two Pulitzers at the Post. And that was a pretty amazing experience, to have someone think so intensively about how your writing could be better. Curiously, the story blew out from 6,500 words to about 8,000 but read so much clearer and better. An indulgent and personal investment, but a good one.
So basically it was a video/photog, a designer and an illustrator that put it all together. We storyboarded it all out. I was pretty happy with the result. It’s sort of a “look what we can do” statement; hopefully it paves the way for more interesting multimedia treatments of stories. The “Long White Cloud” project was in collaboration with the Sunday Star Times, so a pared down version was printed in the paper. But the main goal in all of it was obviously the digital version. And I’m now testing out the freelancing waters, obviously with a bent towards magazine and longer narratives.
*I’m a native New Zealander, raised partly in London. I studied journalism in Christchurch and on graduation went to work for a small regional paper, owned by Fairfax, for a couple of years of learning the craft. Using any opportunity I could to travel and work, I went to Indonesia for two months to work at the Jakarta Globe when it first started, and on the way home went to East Timor. Pretty much the reason I got into journalism was reading the dispatches from there, leading up to its independence. Then I packed my bags and went traveling and working for a year, initially to India, where I covered the Cricket World Cup and wrote about business and development. Then went on to the Horn of Africa to cover the food crisis, heading into northern Kenya, Somaliland and Somalia before slowly making my way back to NZ. There I took up a job working for Fairfax’s flagship paper, the Sunday Star Times, mainly working on features. At the end of last year I headed to Hong Kong for two months to work at the (soon to be) International New York Times before coming home.
2) “Coronado High,” by Joshuah Bearman. You seriously don’t want to miss Bearman’s latest, the crazy tale of young surfers in 1970s California who formed an historically successful drug smuggling operation with their high school Spanish teacher. If this tells you anything, just the epilogue references voice scramblers, prison, motorcycles, scuba diving, the Thai stick trade, Las Vegas, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John DeLorean, Jeffrey Wigand, the Upper Haight, a ship’s captain and a cat named Tipsy. Bearman, who wrote the Wired story that became the Oscar-winning Argo, spent six to nine months reporting and writing the piece and got resourceful about the distribution, as the L.A. Times reported: The story was published by both GQ and The Atavist, and sold to George Clooney and company as a film. You can read a longer excerpt here, but here’s a slice:
Word from buyers was that the East Coast was dying for smoke. Switching geography, the Company figured, would throw off any heat. The company didn’t know the feds were on to them, but the border had become a smuggling frenzy, and the DEA was stepping up efforts around San Diego. So Dave—who had moved beyond beach master to something like a general manager—got out his maps, studied, and praised the gods of fractal geometry for giving distant Maine as many miles of coast as California. He purchased a beach house on Dennison Point in Cutler, Maine, overlooking Machias Bay, plus an equipment house in Freedom and a communication house near Skowhegan. Across the globe, Otter attended to maritime details: cargo-ship certifications, port clearances, tonnage certificates for the Canal. A shipment of prime Thai stick was on the move.
By now, the Company was practically corporatized. Those Mexico loads had been sloppy successes, with too many runners and too little cohesion. Since then, Dave had built a real close-knit crew of as many as fifty people at a time, men who knew one another’s families and had a clear chain of command. The DEA didn’t realize the extent to which the Company had perfected a cell structure, both loose and extremely well organized, bonded by friendship and mutual trust. Company guys lived around the country, under various assumed names, and communicated by 800 numbers with answering services, where they’d leave coded messages with callback numbers to pay phones. Everyone always had a bag of quarters. Dave was an early adopter of beepers. You’d get a message—”Burma Christmas”—and know whom to call back. The Company could disappear for months at a time and then re-emerge, at the ready. “These kids were the best in the business,” Special Agent James Conklin says today. “They were ahead of their time. They operated almost like a military unit.”
3) “Unity with the Universe,” by Wright Thompson, ESPN The Magazine, about legendary Montana fly-rod makers Tom Morgan and Gerri Carlson. A gorgeous story, with some of the most stunning display and photography we’ve seen in a while. Thompson’s opening:
Something strange is happening at the house glowing in the distance. Or rather, a web of strange things, magic almost, if you’ll permit what might seem on the front end to be hyperbole. A man named Tom Morgan lives here, making some of the most expensive and sought-after fly fishing rods in the world, which he does despite having been paralyzed from the neck down for the past 17 years. He’s revered for what he calls “thought rods,” where the instrument functions as an extension of the mind, delivering the fly where you imagine it will go, not where a series of clumsy physical muscle movements try to direct it.
In all of his rods — both in the way he builds them and in the way people seek them out — there lives a sense of the mystic. One old model is nicknamed “The Unity with the Universe.” Tom once offended a conservative fisherman by joking that their accuracy was the result of prayers and incantations. He has that kind of faith in his rods. He believes in how they can connect an angler, if only briefly, to the soul of nature, and how they can connect him to the person he used to be. The rods are what matter, to Tom and to his customers, which seems like such an inadequate word to describe the relationship.
Bonus: Ten tips on the art of the interview: The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas this week posted suggestions ranging from defining your objectives to controlling the rhythm of a conversation. Good stuff for young journalists and a refresher for those who’ve been at work for a while. The piece cites tips from a 2002 issue of our sister pub, Nieman Reports, by Pulitzer winner and Storyboard contributor Isabel Wilkerson, so make sure to click through to her seven steps of interviewing. Here’s the correlating Knight excerpt:
Guide the conversation: Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson considers interviews to be “guided conversations” in which the dynamics of the subject are more important than any individual questions. “In journalism school, no one called the interactions between journalists and sources relationships, but that’s what they are,” she said. Learn to take notes with barely looking at the notebook. It is fundamental to engage the interviewee with eye contact and body movement. Showing empathy leaves the source more comfortable, which increases the chances of them opening up. “To interview is a science of winning confidence, then winning information,” writes John Brady in “The Craft of Interviewing.”