FRONTLINE’s journalism has never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve sent reporters into ISIS-held territory in Afghanistan and government-controlled territory in Syria. We’ve followed children fleeing from Syria to Germany, and teenagers transitioning between genders. We dug into the drug companies’ role in the nationwide opioid epidemic and the insurance industry’s profits after Hurricane Sandy.
We’ve done some of the most significant reporting anywhere on ISIS, examining its history, its expansion and the efforts to fight the terrorist state. We’ve followed the Syrian civil war, Yemen’s descent into chaos, Afghanistan’s ongoing violence and the Israeli government’s complicated relationship with the U.S.
We did this on every major platform available, from our new mobile-first website to Facebook-native video to Snapchat to virtual reality.
This fall, we launched “My Brother’s Bomber,” a major cross-platform investigation in which filmmaker Ken Dornstein helped uncover new evidence of the Libyan government’s likely role in bringing down PanAm Flight 103, which exploded over Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. The work spurred American and Scottish authorities to reopen their own investigation, and our digital team created “The Libya Dossier,” an interactive guide to the suspects in the case.
This was a personal mission for Ken: his brother David was aboard Flight 103 and investigating the bombing became his life’s work. His ongoing search for meaning in David’s death became the subject of “Inheritance,” an interactive story of loss told in text, images and sound. The project was one of five winners of the inaugural Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Award and viewers praised it as “heartbreaking, but beautiful” and lauded it as an experiment in form: “just raised the bar in digital storytelling.”
Throughout the past year, senior digital reporter Sarah Childress has chronicled efforts to fix broken police departments around the country. As part of this reporting, FRONTLINE built a database of every Justice Department investigation of a local police force over the last 20 years, detailing what triggered the investigation, what DOJ found and how the department has (or hasn’t) changed.
Some of these investigations made national news — Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland — cases where a death at the hands of police crystallized years of tension. But many cases were the result of grinding work by local activists detailing longstanding patterns of abuse and neglect. Our database let us measure the impact and effectiveness of the DOJ’s reform efforts and see patterns that linked struggling departments from Miami to Seattle.
In another digital-exclusive project, reporter Katie Worth reported from Recife, Brazil — the epicenter of the Zika epidemic. Katie was there to explore how public officials make decisions in a health crisis when the science is still developing. Katie’s reporting was truly multiplatform — including an interactive map showing the history and spread of the virus; a series of written stories exploring Zika’s impact on an already stretched health care system; several radio stories that were broadcast on PRI’s The World; and an Instagram campaign called #ZikaStories, documenting the stories of the people most impacted by the disease.
This year FRONTLINE regularly broke news on our website. Our September story about how brain disease had been found in 87 of the 91 former NFL players that Boston University’s lab was cited by hundreds of news outlets worldwide. We also have twice published new images of the Bush administration on 9/11 — results of a more than decade-old FOIA request — that provide a new window into the president and vice president’s actions on the day of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. Each of those stories went viral.
In November, FRONTLINE launched its first major redesign in five years. Our new site is mobile first, built around longform storytelling and deep investigations, and designed to give all of our journalism — from full-length documentaries to short text updates — a beautiful, accessible presentation that works on any device.
The driving force behind our redesign was our users. But beyond trying to attract them to our site, we also want to meet our audience where they are. These days, that is largely on social media. In the past year, we’ve built a new video production process that allows us to create social video optimized for a number of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.
We also see social as an opportunity for two-way and many-to-many conversations around our journalism. We curate a live second-screen experience around each new broadcast, inviting experts and journalists to deepen the conversation around the film, and we regularly become a trending topic on Tuesday nights. We use Facebook Live and Google Hangouts to take our audience behind the scenes, and we ask our audience to tell us their personal stories on everything from what they wish others knew about heroin/opiod addiction to why they think the economy is broken.
Finally, we are leading the industry in virtual reality storytelling, producing a new 360-degree documentary every month. While helping shape this emerging medium, we are taking viewers inside places they can’t normally go: from the hunger crisis in South Sudan to the desolate “exclusion zone” outside the Chernobyl nuclear plant to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.