Friday, August 3, 2012

J-School Tells the Powerful Story of Water in New Multimedia Project

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of corresponding with Stephanie Bullins about 100 Gallons, the latest production from Powering a Nation.

Can you give us a quick orientation to Powering a Nation?
Powering a Nation is a fellowship program offered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication that aims to report on energy news with transparency, engagement and trust. It was initially funded by News21 as part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, which allowed some of the top journalism schools in the nation to experiment with journalism in the changing landscape of new media. In its fourth year now, Powering a Nation has received more than 45 national and international awards for its storytelling, visuals and interactivity.

Clearly, there’s a strong correlation between this year’s Powering a Nation theme and the UNC academic theme of Water in our World, but why “100 Gallons”?
This year, on the heels of Coal: A Love Story, the Powering a Nation fellows wanted to focus on a more non-traditional form of energy. As we were tossing around ideas for what "powers" our lives, water stood out as an important resource. In the weeks before the project truly started, we spent countless hours brainstorming, pitching stories, revising and pitching again in an endless cycle. Eventually we decided the story we wanted to tell was our deep connection to water, from birth to death. We debated the title for the first several weeks of the project before we finally landed on 100 Gallons, which is the amount of water an average American uses on a daily basis. 100 Gallons, as a title, emphasizes our lifelong connection to water by pointing out the importance we place on it every day.
How did you select the individual stories for the feature reports? (And did the team really spend 7 hours in a sewer?)
In the beginning, we knew we wanted to tell traditional character-driven stories in addition to creating the visually exciting centerpiece video. For some of the stories, the videographers knew what they were going to film. Jon Kasbe, a senior Communications major, had spoken with Steve Duncan and seen his work before meeting up with him in the sewers of New York City (where he really did spend seven hours filming). But some of the stories came to us by surprise. While live-tweeting a fracking rally in Ohio, we happened to meet Christine Moore, a woman struggling with leaving her farm because she feared her water might be contaminated by the controversial natural gas drilling practice. She invited us back to her home and we followed her on a hunch that her story would be powerful. Now Christine's story, which took three visits to Ohio to capture, has become one of the larger feature stories on the site. 
Now that the site has launched, what’s next?
Now that we've finished this project, most of the fellows and student contributors have been thrust into the "real world," where we're all looking for jobs, while a few of the team members will be returning to UNC to finish their undergraduate or graduate degrees. We plan to keep promoting 100 Gallons and we hope that it will continue to engage users and encourage them to explore the human connection to water. As for Powering a Nation, we're all looking forward to seeing what next year's group of fellows will produce.

Last question: whose unlucky cat got dunked?
Dante, the unlucky cat, actually belongs to Cath Spangler, a former Powering a Nation fellow. While the videographers were in New York, they were able to meet up with her, where she's working as a multimedia producer for The New York Times. None of the shots in the video are staged — they were all collected as real moments in people's lives — so we were all surprised and excited when the videographers came back with footage of Dante's first bath.
In addition to 100 Gallons, you can also view previous Powering a Nation projects online. Much thanks to Stephanie and the Powering a Nation team for their incredible work!