Investigative reporting lives! On YouTube!
“Our newspaper got a tremendous number of page views on the first day of an ambitious eight-part series and a decent number of hits on the second day,” he lamented. “But traffic just died after that.”
The answer, of course, is to leverage the power of the digital media to tell complex stories in a more compelling and less-wordy way than newspapers historically have done.
A great example of how to do this debuted last week in an instructive and important video that combines hard-hitting facts and audible cow farts to reveal the toll taken on our environment – and our health – by the estimated 48 billion hamburgers consumed annually in the United States.
Called “The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers,” the video (embedded below) is among the initial offerings of a new YouTube channel created by the ever-innovative Center for Investigative Reporting to provide one-stop access to the best investigative journalism videos on the web.
The I Files Channel, which launched last week, will feature contributions from such media partners as ABC News, BBC, the New York Times, Al-Jazeera and the Investigative News Network, which consists of 60 nonprofit news organizations including the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Investigative Reporting Workshop and the Center for Public Integrity.
CIR, which will curate the channel, promises to include videos from freelance journalists and independent filmmakers from around the globe. All the videos will be freely sharable on multiple digital platforms via the usual YouTube linking and embedding functions.
The most journalistically inspirational – and ecologically terrifying – video among the first projects posted on the channel is the burger investigation, a lively synthesis of politics, economics, science and animal husbandry that reports, among other things, that every Quarter Pounder adds another 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gasses to our overheating atmosphere.
Work on the project, which was undertaken by CIR to coincide with the launch of the new channel, began in the fall, with senior multimedia producer Carrie Ching teaming up with reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo and illustrator Arthur Jones to research and script the piece. In a disarmingly charming voice that complements Jones’ whimsical infographics, Terry-Cobo covers the many dimensions of a complex story in slightly less than eight minutes.
But don’t be fooled by the entertainment value of the video. It represents serious journalism, as demonstrated here in the closely annotated script, which identifies the source for every assertion. (One suggestion: The video would have more authority if there were a more prominent link to the annotated script.)
With each of the three contributors to the burger project working remotely from different locations around the country, CIR brought in the video for approximately $25,000, said Robert Rosenthal, the executive director of CIR, who previously ran the newsrooms of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle.
The time and talent expended on the hamburger video represents 20% to 25% of the resources that would have been devoted to a big investigative project at a newspaper, said Rosenthal in an email. While CIR will continue to pursue big projects in the future that appear in print, on air and on the digital media, Rosenthal also sees a clear opportunity to tell important stories in videos like the burger project.
Despite being steeped as anyone can be in the old-school traditions, Rosenthal knows that investigative journalists, like all journalists, have to work ever harder in the future to build audiences for their important work.
Often, the best solution won’t be 25,000-words packed into an eight-part series but an eight-minute video punctuated by cow farts. Next time you have an important story to tell, consider adding some hamburger-style helper.