2014 The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom winner

Return to Elwha


Richard Koci Hernandez, Jeremy Rue, Erik Reyna, Ingrid Kopp, Adnaan Wasey

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom


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About the Project

Return to Elwha began as a morass of photographs, audio, and video. The story was about two hydroelectric dams that were being torn down in Washington State. But at the heart of the story was a question: can a river be reborn?

For me, building Return to Elwha was about experimenting with visual storytelling. A notable feature of the project is a scrollable timelapse of one of the dams being removed. I had seen a few similar effects, but they never quite seemed appropriate to me. With the dam coming down, I wanted the user to be able control how they viewed the process of dam removal and how the landscape was beginning to change.

In 2012, I led a source-to-sea expedition down the Elwha River as a National Geographic Explorer. In ‘Return to Elwha’, I wanted to build a feature that evoked a feeling of being on that journey. I felt “scrollytelling” was the best way to display large images that brought the user into the landscape. Additionally, I could embed videos that introduced the user to the people who have a stake in the Elwha.

At the heart of the project, I wanted a map that would “re-create” the expedition. I used Skrollr and SVG animation to create an experience of discovery. As a user scrolls, photographs and looping videos appear where they were taken on the map. I hope that the user gets a sense of what it was like to be on the river.

The process of experimenting with Return to Elwha was very gratifying. When I began I barely knew HTML and CSS. I’ve slowly become more conversant in these languages and look forward to future experimentations.