Monday, March 8, 2010

Genetic Disease and Tidal Waves: Small Newspaper story and Website

You wouldn’t think that climate change and a rare gene anomaly would tug at your heartstrings, but two science journalists won an award for doing just that.

Great Falls, Montana, reporter Amie Thompson and ClimateWire reporter Lisa Friedman won Science Journalism awards for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Thompson won the small newspaper award; Friedman won the online award. One story had global implications; the other affected a small group of people. Yet by the end of each story, you knew who was affected, why they were suffering and what the future looked like. And in both cases, the future was bleak.

Thompson wrote a series for the Great Falls Tribune on a large Montana family that carries a rare gene anomaly known as Pallido-Ponto-Nigral-Degeneration (PPND). Her series is contained in six pages of text, with photos of family members lining the right side of each page.

Friedman developed a Web-based series on the plight of residents of Bangladesh. Her series begins with a page of text introducing some of the families in various villages, along with statistics and history of why the country is suddenly experiencing frequent tidal waves and flooding. The second part of the series is a video focusing on the village of Gabura, Bangladesh, and the story in this video is further developed in text on the third page of the series (with photos, one of which links to the earlier video).

Each reporter’s story is tailored for a different medium and a different audience. Thompson writes for a print newspaper in a small, rural town. Her audience would probably connect more with the family than with the science, so Thompson sneaks in some medical facts from time to time. Friedman writes for a globally-minded audience, possibly who are already interested in the subject of climate change, so she is free to intersperse more statistics, but she uses the human interest story to house them to keep the audience’s interest. Since her medium is online, she can incorporate inline photos and video.

The lesson for us: Know your audience and the capacity of your medium.

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