Washington Post: Failing the Bay

By Jason Lenhart

The Washington Post has an interesting multimedia page that touches on a few issues of the Bay.

Now, I’ve spent a few days searching the Internet for some sort of multimedia page, available to the public, that addresses the issues surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, and so far, this is it. Maybe my search techniques are lacking, or maybe it just hasn’t been done yet, but the Washington Post’s page has some good aspects, and some poor aspects.

First, the main page is pretty squished over. For such a big issue, I want to see a full page. The advertising column on the right takes up roughly a third of the page. Viewers want to find things easily, and, when you distract them with small content pages, you run the risk of losing them rather quickly. That being said, the main content page does offer quite a bit.

Washington post Multimedia

Screenshot of the Washington Post's "Failing the Chesapeake Bay" Multimedia page

The main scroll photo allows the viewer to check out some time-comparison photos. I like the idea, but three? Is that it? I want more! It’s a great idea that just falls off entirely. The map/photo/text overlay is all put together well from a graphic standpoint, but I really feel like it has much more potential than the Post utilized.

Below that, the page presents several graphs. I like graphs. Graphs are good. People can understand graphs (as long as they are kept simple) and the creator can get their point across pretty quickly. The rollover options add some great info too. I’m not sure how I feel about it being on the same page, but it’s a good element.

After you work through that, the Post gives you a few video stories. “Voices of the Bay: A Way of Life, Lost” is a classic approach to the effects of environment destruction. Jeanne Abbott and her family have lost their oyster business due to the devastated oyster populations. It’s a great story, but I have a few quarrels with Post’s production of the story, such as the length. I think this story is necessary in presenting the failing bay, but so far, outside of text stories, the Post isn’t giving us the necessary info to understand the cause of the “Failing Bay.” It’s not a core story, but human-interest pieces are always good.

The Post adds a few more videos that are the same in nature to Jeanne Abbott’s story. Overall, it’s a great attempt to offer a multimedia approach to a very vast story. There are so many elements that go into the bay’s story that by NOT producing a major, comprehensive, multimedia/interactive web feature, it seems to doom the overall message. The Post has a feature to search the archive for stories on the bay in the last 25 years. 25 years! Unless you’re doing research, most readers/viewers don’t want to take the time to sludge through hundreds of stories to get the big picture. Part of our goal here at News21 is to find news ways of storytelling presentation, and it’s for that reason we need to bring viewers into our stories so that they are not lost in page upon page of daunting text. The Washington Post made an attempt that is definitely headed in the right direction.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr