Inside Story is a first-of-its-kind video series created to engage with and bring information to one of America’s largest news deserts: prisons and jails. Co-created by Lawrence Bartley and Donald Washington, Jr., of The Marshall Project and both of whom were formerly incarcerated, the show is a collaboration between The Marshall Project and the Emmy-winning VICE News. The series brings critical accountability and investigative journalism on the criminal justice system to those behind bars – and those on the outside, too. What distinguishes the eight-episode series is not just the deeply reported, beautifully shot feature segments, inspiring profiles, illuminating animations and thoughtful interviews, but the way in which it was created. It was borne of deep research and reporting on the largely ignored incarcerated audience itself – and their information needs.
Bartley had previously launched a print publication, News Inside, for people behind bars. But working with Washington, they also understood the literacy challenges in prisons and jails, and wanted to find an easier way to connect Marshall Project reporting and expertise to those on the inside. They also conducted surveys of incarcerated people to better understand what they wanted. Using that knowledge, they dreamed up the idea of a show, leaning on video as a storytelling tool to make The Marshall Project’s work more accessible. With its roster of talented executive producers, correspondents, producers and editors, VICE News brought its signature storytelling style, reporting and production skills, joining Bartley, Washington and The Marshall Project’s staff of criminal justice experts. Throughout production, both newsrooms operated with a singular focus: How does the show meet the needs of incarcerated audiences? The result was a varied, entertaining series that would appeal to people on both sides of the prison wall.
Inside Story was released to critical acclaim, with features in the New York Times, on CBS, NPR, NBC, and more, garnering more than a million combined views on YouTube alone. However the more significant measure of the show’s reach was that it was also distributed to roughly 750 prisons and jails via tablets accessible to incarcerated people and facilities’ closed-circuit television. The viewership numbers are challenging to determine, but we estimate that at least tens of thousands of people inside watched the show.
Here are just a couple of the notes we’ve received. Cadell in North Carolina told us: “It feels good to see Inside Story talk about the truth of what it is to be incarcerated. We’re fortunate to get this series in our N.C. prisons.” And Ari, a parent of an incarcerated person, said after watching an animated essay of a woman visiting her son in jail: “I bawled my eyes out after watching ‘I wonder if they know my son is loved’ because I’ve been here. That feeling of helplessness, of utter fear for your child, who this system views as an adult.”