“The Road” offers readers something most journalism about deforestation in the Amazon never gives them: the stories of the miners, the loggers and the ranchers who are consuming the forest, and the politicians who assist them – in their own words, and with the context to understand their motivations.
The Globe team – Latin America correspondent Stephanie Nolen, along with photographer Aaron Elkaim and producer Elisângela Mendonça – made a grueling two-week journey from Brazil’s agro-industrial heartland to a port town 2,000km north on the Amazon River. Their travel, through dust storms and forest fires, brought them into tense confrontation with illegal miners and loggers.
But the reporting was only half the battle. The second challenge was how to present the information in a way that drew readers in, and maintained their interest through a project long enough to explain the true complexity of the Amazon issue.
We wanted to keep the feeling of Stephanie’s voice and narrative, while tightly integrating photography and video to give the reader a visceral sense of place. We worked to weave all the elements together seamlessly so that nothing would trip readers up or pull them out of the story.
Our goal was to strike a delicate, difficult balance where text, video and interactivity all worked together – no one piece detracting from the others – to achive a truely immersive story. In order for this to be successful, especially on mobile, we made use of cutting-edge browser technology to create a fully integrated multimedia experience that was a true narrative but still feel immersive.
The project drew a global readership. Readers in Canada made up only 50 per cent of page views. Thousands came from Brazil, Australia, India and Germany, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom.
We used Instagram heavily to promote the project: Stephanie posted updates while on the road, and we created immersive instagram stories and galleries.
Response from the scientific community was laudatory as well. Biologist Toby Gardner, the world’s foremost expert on Amazonian degradation, called it the best exploration of the issues he had ever seen; the Norwegian government agency that funds Amazonian preservation said it was an ‘essential’ tool for explaining the crisis. It was heralded in the Brazilian media as an even-handed and nuanced examination of an issue of a kind rarely seen in the country. And a great many non-expert readers wrote Ms. Nolen and The Globe to express their thanks, for making a complicated and daunting subject unusually accessible – and in particular for explaining how their own actions could contribute to change.