2014 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium Newsroom finalist


About the Project

A year ago, St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon were separate organizations considering a merger that we hoped would exponentially increase our capacity for public service journalism and innovation. Now, our merged organization — called simply St. Louis Public Radio — seeks ONA’s General Excellence award in recognition that those ambitions are being realized.

A CJR article about the merger explained our vision — to make the leap from being a well-regarded public radio station and nonprofit news website to becoming a true multi-media news organization that connects with our community in many ways. The effort has paid off, as you’ll see in the work cited below. Our newsroom of about 25 is larger but by no means lavish. Yet we’ve deepened our day-to-day reporting by digging into beats (see coverage of education issues.) We’ve increased our commitment to investigations (see lethal injection reporting that was a finalist for an IRE award.) We’ve sharpened our skills to make better use of radio, web presentation, data analysis and visualization, and more. And we’ve ramped up social media interaction and use of the Public Insight Network — efforts that inform our work and increase its impact.

The following specific examples represent a larger commitment to deliver news that matters while taking full advantage of digital tools that can make our work more powerful and more personally appealing. We hope you’ll choose to recognize our efforts with the General Excellence award.

Our user interface and interactive efforts are best evinced in three major projects:

  • Lobbying Missouri, is a collaboration with NPR’s Visuals Team, in which we built a responsive web app using Missouri Ethics Commission data detailing lobbyist gifts to the Missouri Legislature. Its entire purpose is utility and making this important data human-friendly with a clean, simple presentation. It invites readers in by allowing them to enter their address to find their legislators, and it connects to context, by presenting links to our stories on the issue.
  • The Missouri Bill Tracker, building on an open source project from MinnPost, made it easy for Missourians to see what important bills were making their way through the legislature. Our political team worked to identify and summarize bills, and we added context with links to stories. This tool generated significant interest not just in St. Louis, but also throughout the state.
  • Each year it’s estimated that upwards of 7.5 million students miss almost three and a half weeks of class time, enough to be what researchers call chronically absent. By recognizing a problem in clear sight, our Accounted For project unlocks student data and academic research in way that’s easily digestible for policy makers and community stakeholders, and couples it with comprehensive reporting. We built a responsive mini-site to house the project, produced a hand-illustrated video to describe the problem, and built an interactive map that allows users to find out how it affects every Missouri school district. The site includes sharing options and a hashtag to promote conversation.

We’re always looking for ways that technology can creatively support and enhance the work we do:

  • Throughout our investigation into Missouri’s secretive execution process we showed our work in several ways. We used DocumentCloud to embed and annotate primary source documents and make them easier to understand. Through a live chat in collaboration with New Orleans’ The Lens our reporter Chris McDaniel answered questions from the public and helped share similarities and differences to a similar scenario in Louisiana. We also created graphics of secret spending related to the execution process, built a timeline of execution’s recent history in Missouri using Timeline.js, and live-tweeted updates, especially during major developments.
  • For our Accounted For project, reporter Tim Lloyd worked with production assistant and illustrator Aaron Doerr to create an animation to introduce the series, explain the problem and solicit feedback from the community in a unique and memorable way.
  • And in an example illustrative of our commitment to using technology creatively even in daily stories, Data Visualization Specialist Brent Jones took statistics about the new Mississippi River Bridge and turned them into a simple but effective interactive illustration.

Integration of social media is also a focus of our news production process:

  • For our Lobbying Missouri project, users can share individual gifts they find interesting on Twitter or Facebook with a click. Additionally, Chris McDaniel’s ongoing reporting encourages readers to continually explore this updated data and tell us what they find interesting. This is a living project, with on-air and online reporting continuing as new data is released and the app updated.
  • Our reporter on the Accounted For project, Tim Lloyd, also took it upon himself to connect with the #moedchat community. Eventually, he was a co-moderator on an absenteeism-focused chat discussing possible solutions to the problem. Collaboration was also a theme – to get a broader, statewide perspective we also included reports from KRCU in southeast Missouri and Tim appeared on an episode of St. Louis on the Air, our daily talk show, to discuss the issue. Additionally, we used our Public Insight Network to ask the community about their experience with getting kids to school on a regular basis and barriers to that goal.
  • During our ongoing coverage of Missouri’s secrecy in execution standards, we continue to seek out ways for Chris to connect with the community. This includes integration with our daily talk show, St. Louis on the Air, with Chris appearing on the program several times to discuss new developments. Additionally, we collaborated with The Lens NOLA, where a similar situation is unfolding, to hold a live chat where Chris and The Lens’ reporter explained the reporting and answered questions from readers. Finally, Chris live-tweets important developments in this story, from court hearings and decisions to the executions themselves.