Using visual storytelling tools, Oxpeckers investigation incorporates multimedia elements

byLungelo Ndhlovu
Aug 23 in Digital journalism

Digital models of publishing and presenting stories have led to the creation of new platforms that help journalists take full advantage of interactive content and storytelling forms.

In journalism today, good writing alone is no longer enough. Storytelling must be visually compelling as well as interactive, a lesson that the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism incorporated into a recent project investigating land and property rights, titled “Kruger’s Contested Borderlands.”

South African environmental journalist Fiona Macleod, president of Oxpeckers, joined journalists, technologists, designers and multimedia experts at a Reporting Land Rights event held in South Africa. At the event, she explained the story and shared the methods the team used to create the project.

“Game reserves are being developed along the Mozambican border with Kruger National Park to create a buffer zone against the poaching of rhinos and elephants,” she said. “However, displaced communities say it’s a land grab by rich foreigners, aided by corrupt politicians.”

The team decided to investigate. Mozambican journalist Estacio Valoi carried out the initial investigation and it soon became a collaborative reporting effort produced by Oxpeckers in partnership with Code for Africa, AfricanDrone and the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR). It was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with support from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

“In “Kruger’s Contested Borderlands” we combined drone photojournalism, videos, satellite imagery, data visualizations, still photography and text,” said Macleod.

It was also translated into Portuguese to reach a larger audience, especially inside Mozambique.

After completing such a large project — one that involved many different groups and individuals — Macleod shared lessons learned in a post.

To present the final story, the team used Shorthand, a platform for presenting multimedia journalism projects in a way that incorporates videos, images, text and more. Shorthand is frequently used by the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Business Insider, Time, LinkedIn and the Thomson Reuters Foundation to present feature pieces that incorporate multiple multimedia elements. The online tool is designed for digital storytellers, publishers and brands, and can be harnessed by digital storytelling teams across the world to deliver visually striking stories.

ICFJ Knight Fellow Jacopo Ottaviani, chief development officer and data editor at Code for Africa, said the tool allows users to make digital longform stories even if they lack strong coding skills.

“I would suggest Shorthand for in-depth long-form reportage that has to be accompanied with strong multimedia components, such as good videos, photos maps and data visualizations,” said Ottaviani.

“Freelancers and journalists are encouraged to heavily make use of Shorthand,” said Ottaviani. “The tool can work with other digital tools. In Nigeria, in collaboration with The Punch, we also used Shorthand with the Shifting Sands project.”

Steve Sapienza, senior producer at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, also regularly uses Shorthand. He believes the tool is user friendly and is a visually stunning way to present a journalism story.

“Not every story will make a good Shorthand story,” said Sapienza. “Journalists and editors need to consider what audio or visual assets and unique story assets are available before using Shorthand.”

The visuals not only need to be strong but should complement the layout and capabilities of Shorthand. Stories that involve a timeline or journeys are also good candidates, as well as stories that lend themselves to complimentary maps or data graphics.

“Shorthand is also useful for long investigative pieces, especially when linking together reporting that involves multiple locations such as a story that we supported about land investments by the Financial Times,” said Sapienza.

Sapienza also thinks that Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Slumscapes project works well as a Shorthand story. It uses Johnny Miller's aerial drone imagery to expose the disparities between the have and have-nots.

Malawian journalist Lameck Masina used Shorthand for the first time to make a long-form story, combining videos on a land rights issues. He concurred that the digital publishing platform is easy to use but he also thinks it is very expensive.

“I have tried out Shorthand’s free trial version and I find it very interesting and useful. I like the built-in options that allows one to share the projects on social media. But let’s face it, this tool is not for those with empty pockets,” said Masina.

Indeed, at a starting plan of US$20 per month, Shorthand does not come cheap. Before deciding to invest in the tool, users can test it using the free trial option.

Ottaviani also stated that alternative web-based applications like Steller can be used to produce similar results.

Main image from Oxpeckers' "Kruger's Contested Borderlands" shorthand package.