2015 Knight Award for Public Service finalist

Losing Ground


About the Project

ProPublica and The Lens, the nonprofit newsroom based in New Orleans, spent a year working to give readers a new perspective on an unfolding tragedy: Southeast Louisiana is sinking, at a rate of about a football field of soil an hour.

ProPublica’s Al Shaw and Brian Jacobs pored over decades of satellite images and federal and state data to understand the problem and pioneer innovative ways to depict it. The Lens’ Bob Marshall travelled the region in his 19-foot catamaran, profiling fishermen, cattle ranchers, scientists and local historians who have watched their homes disappear beneath their feet.

Together, the team produced “Losing Ground,” a model of 21st century environmental reporting, combining eye-popping imagery and ambitious data journalism with compelling multimedia storytelling and arresting photography. Readers could absorb a sweeping historical view of the changing coast over decades, or zoom in — literally — to see the communities most affected.

Our traditional and data reporters stood on what may be the newest land in the world, flying weather balloons tethered to cameras so they could capture images of land not yet noticed by satellites.

The reaction to the stories was thunderous, both from readers and fellow journalists. The first piece was the single-most read story on ProPublica’s website all year, drawing hundreds of thousands of page views and raising national awareness for what had been a largely local crisis. The Dodge Foundation’s Josh Stearns put the project atop his list of the year’s best online storytelling. “Losing Ground is a simply immense project,” raved data visualization specialist Andy Kirk, “one that integrates the best of visualization, astute journalism, and stunning satellite and photo imagery to present the extreme state of coastal land being lost across the Southeastern region of Louisiana.”