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2019 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Newsroom finalist

Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Project

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit news site with a focus on investigative and explanatory journalism. Our goal is to challenge our leaders to do better. And our mission is to engage and educate our citizens so they can better hold our government and civic leaders accountable.

Civil Beat interacts with readers through a busy roster of public events, including Civil Cafes and Hawaii Storytellers. Our Morning Beat newsletter is emailed to thousands of subscribers. Our Facebook page and Facebook groups host robust community debate and commentary. We’re also continually experimenting with digital storytelling, looking for ways to better help readers engage with complex topics — from animated explainer videos and audio podcasts to interactive maps, crossword puzzles and graphically-rich timelines.

Here are a few ways we’ve harnessed online technology in the last 12 months to help inform our readers and empower them to make change in their communities:

Hawaii has seen an uptick in recent years of tropical storms making landfall, as well as near-misses from more powerful hurricanes. Much of its critical infrastructure lies along a small stretch of the most heavily populated island, Oahu, making a direct hit there catastrophic. Civil Beat’s multi-part series “Are We Ready?” explored the state’s vulnerability. To help readers understand the bureaucratic issues involved, we eschewed massive text stories and focused instead on smaller pieces, accompanied by explanatory graphics and maps, that allowed readers to focus in on each critical component of disaster preparation in Hawaii. The series was honored with the 2019 News Leaders Association’s Punch Sulzberger Award for Digital Innovation.

For our newsletter HI-Priced, Civil Beat used Google Forms to collect more than 200 audience responses in which local residents share personal stories about their experiences with Hawaii’s cost of living. Through this crowdsourcing, Civil Beat has connected with people from diverse backgrounds, income levels, and living situations and amplified their voices through Q&A interviews. By sharing the survey forms through social media, newsletters and article embeds, we have engaged with people from all over the state.

We launched Hawaii 2040, a yearlong series focused on climate change, using crowdsourcing through Google Forms and Facebook to get a better understanding of the changes people are witnessing in their communities. Our microsite for the project brings together articles, explainer videos, animated graphics, interactive maps, and tools to help people calculate their carbon footprint and look at sea level rise projections.

Our team uses social media to support our reporting and outreach on all these projects, but continues to look for other ways to engage readers. We work with a consulting firm to conduct political polls, interact with readers in our carefully curated comment section, solicit input from readers through our newsletter, drive our van — which is equipped with a mobile recording studio — to more rural parts of Oahu to reach communities often overlooked by reporters, and reach new audiences through interactive live streaming on Facebook and YouTube during large events, including the large lava outbreak in 2018.