#MAProject: Basic concepts – The JTeam and Views to a Crisis

As I’m trying to finish my MA Project, I realized that when I write my final Production Report it will be more about failure than success. But this could also be  because I haven’t got much feedback on what I’m doing, so I’ll just put it all out in the open. Tell me what you think.

The JTeam

The starting point was to create an informal team of journalists, specialized in multimedia and interactive narratives, that would follow specific production guidelines to tell marginal stories to main issues. This was also my main idea when me and my MA colleagues started developing Hashbrum, a hyperlocal website dedicated to cover the “neglected stories of Birmingham” (looking back through the filter of recent events we could have done so much more), but we failed to follow that line, although the basic concept was there.

When I say “informal”, I mean “not fixed”, the team would vary from story to story, since every story needs different skills and sensibilities. It could also work as an external Multimedia production company embedding journalists from established media brands. Another example of this would be Spot.us, and the way they change  journalists and editors for every story. Having the people and the tools, this would be a team of journo-mercenaries (at least we would admit that), although mimicking the A-Team for journalism doesn’t look that good after you’ve seen others doing the same for other (probably more successful) businesses.

And this would be it: a pool of eager, talented, skilled journos ready to step into action armed with multimedia and  interactivity  and witty remarks. This also has a more broad organizational model, but for now this is enough.

So, what would be the J-Team’s first assignment?

Views To a Crisis

While living in the UK, I noticed that most of the information about the standards of living, the  economical and social situation in Portugal we’re skewed – to say the least –  and, above all, inaccurate. Portugal looked worse a year ago from the outside than it really is nowadays, and I thought about how much speculative journalism can affect the image of a nation. Not that the news were wrong, the facts were just a bit blown out of proportion. If we consider that many media groups are cutting back in correspondents, and that the international media doesn’t care for local media if they can’t understand it (i.e., speak in a foreign language) maybe they will never be able to deliver an accurate account of what is really happening. I’m not saying that I didn’t see a good coverage from some British media about the risks Portugal was facing, but I wondered how they could paint such a bad picture and how much of that was cause or effect.

Not trying to imply foreign media in Portuguese mismanagement, my idea was to have a more human approach to the subject, and turn those doom and gloom numbers into real faces and places, and share their stories of perseverance, misfortune, readjustment or evolution in a critical economical environment, and show them to an international audience by making that content available in Internet’s lingua franca, English.

But once back in Portugal and having being in touch again with the national media industry, I realized the “real” country wasn’t just misrepresented by foreign media: Portuguese newsrooms, due to their own hardships, have been concentrating their coverage on the mainframe issues and falling into the number and statistics trap. Not all, fortunately, but we are being fed the crisis every single time we look at a newsstand, or listen to the radio or watch the TV news, and sometimes it all looks like a damned math problem. Well, it is, but I hated Math. And since major news outlets are cutting back on their own local correspondents, I got that feeling that something was skewed all over again, with most of the message being conveyed from and directed to major urban areas, most specifically Lisbon, which does not reflect the realities of the rest of the country.

In my research for outliers from this type of coverage, I came across with an initiative by Público, one of Portugal’s leading newspapers, that developed an interesting approach to depict the effects of the crisis in regular people. Their approach is to follow five different families from different parts of the country. Called “A year in the crisis“, their goal is to have first person accounts using dynamic languages like video, set against background analysis provided by data and critical reports. It’s a very solid concept, and that meets many of the ideas I have for my own project. They are trying to figure out what has changed in these people’s lives and how they are adjusting to cope with all the setbacks created by an economical downturn, while keeping the stories human.

My idea is a bit more broad though. These families are sharing their experience, but I also care about the young graduates who are thinking about leaving the country because they can’t find a job, or those who are going back to their hometowns since they can’t afford living in great urban areas although the job offers are even more scarce. Or how some are demonstrating their discontentment through urban art, or how they are helping others in more dire situations. And I also want to know how life is for those who have always lived through their own crisis, that this one will only aggravate. Others are creating new opportunities reinventing their own life and career options, and many are trying to keep doing the same things they always did before: there weren’t any big losses in the Summer music festivals that happened all over the country, for example.

This would be complemented by a comprehensive set of data visualizations that would show how the situation has evolved, how it has its toll in different parts of the country (I’ve been trying to create a map of unemployment by municipality), and provide tools so each user could relate to specific data sets, using calculators or queries. I’ve been playing with some data viz tools and the only thing I can show now is a sunburst graph depicting the money the government has spent in its executive responsibilities. It has no framing or further explanations, it’s just a technical experiment.

A set of production guidelines still has to be established, but these depend on the range of the content, how it will be produced, and under which business model it will fall under. But business models will soon be discussed here too.

I have been trying to establish partnerships with other people and organizations – some related to independent media – especially aiming at the non-profit model, but I’m open to suggestions. And if you feel you have what it takes to be a part of it, registrations are open. Well, not real registrations, just send me an email if you’re interested.

What do you make of this? Would foreign media be interested in a coverage “from the ground”, and would Portuguese media  also be available to work in the production of this type of contents and use them in their own platforms? What flaws do you see in this concept?

I’m all eyes and ears.



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