Portal on a new e-j format

Students in the e-journalism program launched this year’s edition of the multimedia storytelling site, Portal.

While much of online journalism focuses on breaking news, online features are an emerging area of importance, especially for e-journalists.

“Telling compelling stories on vital topics, while taking advantage of the online medium, is a crucial skill for modern journalists,” Professor Robert Washburn, co-ordinator of the E-journalism Program, said.

“We reflect on the various types of media – text, images, audio or video – and combine them in a way that best tells the story. Then, present the story in a way that is interesting and interactive.”

Each student was asked to take on a major project over the semester and then present it, using the three principles of e-journalism: educate, engage and empower.

This year’s edition focuses on stories related to autism, food banks, literacy, globalization, sustainable living, protecting water resources, buy local campaigns and draft dodgers in Canada.

One of the highlights of this year’s edition was a trip by Shannon Jones and Barb MacEachern to Mexico on Feb. 13 as part of the annual trip to Cuernavaca with Loyalist Professor Gary Warren and his group, Quest Internacional. The two e-journalists reported back daily about the various aspects of the trip to the IDEALS web site and the Online Pioneer Plus, the multimedia news site for the journalism program. Jones is focusing on the issue of literacy as part of her independent study project, while MacEachern is looking at globalization and free trade. When the pair returned, they each developed a comprehensive multimedia story about the issues.

Travelling as a journalist rather than a tourist was a big change for Jones.

“Embarking on this trip as a journalist, rather than a tourist, was a new experience for me. It’s difficult to explain, but I found that I kept my eyes open the entire time. I noticed many things I would have otherwise overlooked. It was easier to relate each experience to the next because I picked up on the sometimes subtle, similarities,” she said.

Approaching stories from the perspective of an e-journalist is different than traditional journalism. Deciding which format is best to tell a particular aspect of the story was most challenging. Should it be video, audio, image or text? But there is also a change in the point of view.

“Telling my story using the principles of e-journalism has allowed me to include a lot more of my personality into each aspect. I have complete control of what is being displayed and how it is being displayed. I think that this appeals more to the audience, because it is unlike many of the stories they have heard before. I am able to go ‘outside the box’ and throw in a bit of creative flare, which I think also appeals to the audience, because there isn’t that feeling of rigidness attached,” she said.

For MacEachern, it was a special interview with several Zapatistas she remembers most.

“My most exciting journalist moment of the trip was spending time with two members of the Zapatista social and political movement that started out of Chiapas, Mexico. Knowing that there is a publication boycott on information on the movement within Mexico, only compelled me further to ask many questions and understand as best I could what the movement is trying to accomplish.

“Having only read about the Zapatistas before my trip, I was very excited and honoured to not only communicate directly with members of the movement, but also to be allowed to video tape and record their story as told over a number of hours. Also given the current military buildup surrounding Chiapas and the projection by the indigenous group that danger may be imminent, I felt the story was very important. As fellow North Americans, Canadians should be much more aware of conditions outside the holiday resorts in Cancun or Acapulco, if for no other reason then to understand how Mexico’s social, political or economic systems directly effect the other countries. Canadians should be sitting up and taking an interest to the suffering of so many in the south,” she said.

But not all the moments gathering and producing these stories were glamorous. Louise Livingstone found herself on a farm on one particularly cold day talking about sustainable living and its impact on agriculture with a local farmer. In the middle of shooting video, the camera gave up due to the numbing freezing temperatures. Undaunted by the failure of modern technology, she resorted to the traditional pen and reporter’s notebook to finish her interview.

Portal was first published in 2000 as part of the e-journalism program at Loyalist College as a way of giving students an opportunity to experiment with storytelling techniques using the special medium of the Internet. Most early efforts were limited by the technology of the day, but students tried to be innovative with the juxtaposition of elements and the use of hyperlinks to provide depth to their stories. This year, the use of Flash to present multimedia is a far cry from those early days. Each story this year includes some kind of community-building aspect aimed at empowering audiences to form alliances and meet others who are interested in these topics or wish to take action on the issue.

Students also used wireless technology, mainly cell phones, to post blogs directly to the miView page where they have maintained j-blogs for the entire year. It was a way to use wireless to report on events they were covering related to stories under production. One student, Adam Campbell even tried using Twitter as a reporting tool.

The final stories were presented to faculty on March 12, where the final product was not only evaluated for technical and journalistic value, but included an oral defense for each decision, ensuring that it maintained the principles of e-journalism.