2021 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Newsroom finalist


About the Project

In five and a half years, nonprofit CalMatters has carved out a leadership role at the center of the media ecosystem in California. We’re now a trusted brand and “go-to” hub for in-depth information on statewide issues. And increasingly we blend sophisticated writing with multimedia, making our deeply reported journalism even more compelling.

A key: the plugin we developed to extend the functionality of our WordPress/Newspack website. This has given us the flexibility to build whatever kind of experience we want directly into a WordPress posts — templatizing our digital storytelling for future-use cases.

Examples of our work:

* Our Waiting for Justice post opens with a scrolly and features timelines to reinforce the ultimate theme of the story — the seemingly interminable waiting from a huge courts backlog. The timeline keeps you waiting and watching the days scroll by for jailed but unconvicted people such as Victor Jimenez — an extra two seconds of your life to understand what happened to 503 days of his.

* California’s ballot is notoriously complicated, with a gauntlet of propositions that test even the wonkiest of news junkies. Our 2020 Election GuideVoter Guide shows we explicitly thought about how underserved Californians consume news and how to reach them — especially younger and more diverse potential voters. The guide offers accessible, bite-sized nuggets of content — best exemplified by our punchy Props-in-a-Minute videos and interactive game “”Gimme Props.”” It also included a live voter FAQ, live campaign finance graphics, an interactive map tracking presidential campaign donations by ZIP code, and live election results integrated throughout.

* Staying Sheltered is an intimate, multidisciplinary look at some of the 2 million renters made vulnerable by the pandemic and the forecasted tsunami of evictions. It tracks the experience of a handful of renters in real time — highlighting their struggles and resourcefulness — via imagery, a video timeline, interactives and their own words. Audiences were invited to share their stories; others responded with an outpouring of cash support for our subjects.

* Close Quarters illustrates how the pandemic layered a health crisis on top of a housing crisis on top of a class divide — taking a heavier toll in neighborhoods where people pack into overcrowded homes. Using data analysis and visualization of neighborhood-level data from 10 counties, this series mixed vibrant narratives with groundbreaking analysis.

* Year of Loss captures the human toll of the coronavirus in California with searing narratives, evocative photographs and data visualization. We solicited participants via social media. The custom container sizing made possible by our WordPress allowed for seamless movement between full-width DOM elements and those that are not. We used HTML5 Canvas to enhance emotional reactions to the statistical data visualizations, and designed with mobile in mind using collapsable containers and jump navigation.

This year CalMatters’ work has won a Headliner and National Press Foundation award, plus several from the California News Publishers. As Washington Post senior correspondent Scott Wilson tweeted: “stunning work…jaw dropping. And the design work is perfect.”