Think about the following issues: Israel-Palestine, the Ukraine crisis that persists, an ongoing civil war in Syria, infectious diseases like Ebola and Malaria, drug cartel violence in Mexico. What do you know about how these conflicts began and where they stand now?
If you can’t fully answer either of those questions, you’re not alone. Once headlines about major world events disappear, it’s hard to follow the aftershocks.
Coda Story, a nonprofit startup, is here to change that. Coda’s plan is simple: Enlist a team of journalists to report on an ongoing crisis and let them stick on the issue for up to a year. Throughout the reporting process, Coda will publish stories to its web platform specifically developed for following ongoing crises.
“Our tagline is, ‘Stay on the story,’” explained Coda co-founder Natalia Antelava. “That’s what we think is really missing from today’s journalism: the follow-up. This is a niche we want to fill, and we want to do it on a more global level.”
Coda began a crowdfunding campaign for its pilot project, which launched Jan. 18 and examines the past, present and future of LGBTQ rights in the former Soviet Union. The nonprofit enlisted about nine freelance journalists, and they’ve been reporting in the region for the past several months. Their articles, videos and audio pieces will be published on Eurasia.net and to Coda’s platform.
In addition to the US$23,099 raised through crowdfunding, Coda's pilot is financed by a foundation grant and will only last three months rather than Coda’s goal of a year. The Coda team, which is stacked with veteran journalists, spent a great deal of time imagining the project, but Antelava says the pilot’s shorter time frame will allow them to fully test their ideas.
Coda first drew the attention of industry journalists back in 2014, when it won the Best Startups for News competition at the Global Editors Network annual summit. Using Ukraine as a case study, the Coda team encouraged others to think about what would happen to the country once the media spotlight moved on.
Coda worked with Method, a collaborative design studio, to develop a single-issue Web platform to showcase “currents,” which group together stories, events and media into themes. Currents allow journalists reporting the story to show readers how common threads evolve in a linear, interactive way.
The organization’s spine relies on traditional reporting methods, but the flesh is experimental. What readers will see once a story is published looks different than a newspaper, broadcast or online article.
“In my view, I think the biggest reason we can’t stay on the story is because platforms as we know them aren’t really designed for doing that,” Antelava said. “You read a newspaper, you throw it out. You watch a television piece, it disappears. The format is disposable, which means every time reporters tell a story, we tell it from scratch. We can’t assume someone has read part one or part two.”
The Internet has changed that. As a format, the Web is easy to mold. While there is a lot of experimentation happening with storytelling platforms online, Antelava says she hasn’t seen it fully reimagined. With Coda, she plans to stop treating the “Internet as a place where you can keep throwing bottomless updates,” and “make connections between stories and use the content in a better way.”
In the future, the nonprofit plans to have different “Codas” for individual crises. The pilot, Coda #LGBTcrisis, will have its own page where readers can explore the deep-rooted problem in Russia and beyond. Information surrounding another topic, such as the migrant crisis, will become its own Coda. Each venture will have an individualized set of reporters since the organization will tap into local journalists according to the region.
Antelava said the mainstream media often “helicopters in” foreign correspondents who may not be familiar with a country, its history or its people.
“I have been sent to places before where I’ve never been and put in front of a camera and had to talk about news – and I did,” Antelava, who has spent much of her career with the BBC, said. “But that little dose of breaking news felt really shallow.”
“The mainstream does that really well. What [Coda] wants to do is fill in where they don’t do so well: The context, the background, the color, the feel. We want our viewers to be able to really relate and smell the places we’re going to. And that you can only do if you’re committed to a place.”
But in a world where newsrooms have had to cut back on financing long-term investigative reporting, Coda still has a long road ahead. As a nonprofit, it can’t turn to venture capitalists like other media startups, and crowdfunding every Coda would be onerous. Antelava and her Coda partners are trying to build a sustainable organization, she said, and they’re experimenting to see what will stick. As they continue to seek funding through grants, they’re toying with other ideas, such as potential product licensing of the platform created with Method and conferencing.