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2015 The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

The Trails of Trash

About the Project

Signe Larsen’s “The Trails of Trash” is a whimsical, yet highly informative look at the sanitation ecosystem of the city of Los Angeles. The anchor piece of this project is a 15-minute video that Signe shot, wrote, and edited herself. It presents the competing narratives of the trash debate taking place in LA with residents, experts, the sanitation industry, and even a garbage truck driver all playing a role in explaining why, according to some, “LA is a laughingstock when it comes to garbage.”

Other forms of media were used to take advantage of the online publishing environment Signe chose. Short clips of audio are used to provide “voices” to LA’s citizens (just roll your cursor over the photos of the citizens to hear their thoughts). Webtext (with links and stills) is used to “set the table” for the broader debate in LA, the politics of trash, and the international scope of the story. Various digital elements such as Google Maps, a Timeline, and infographics help Signe round out her multimedia coverage of this issue.

Every element of this multimedia news product — video, audio, text and digital — was created and completed by Signe alone. She even partially coded the site (with the help of a template). While she did received feedback and guidance from Annenberg faculty, Signe worked on this entire project by herself for less than one semester. This was her Graduate Capstone Project at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; what the school uses instead of a thesis to decide if students have progressed enough to earn a diploma from our Journalism Master of Science program.

All those elements Signe completed for this project share one key starting point, one major idea: how do you answer the questions concerned consumers have about all the garbage they know they are producing every day? In order to get those answers, Signe conducted a major amount of research and tried to visit every major hub along LA’s “trails of trash.” She hiked across landfills, spent time in huge recycling plants, and gained access to industrial-sized incinerators operating in or near LA. At every stop, she made sure to try and get answers to the consumer questions she had collected.

The result is a textured body of multimedia reporting that takes the site’s visitors across the LA-area as that city tries to deal with its sanitation issues. But that is not the end of the story. This project also draws connection between California, Japan, China and some European countries as they all try to deal with (and profit from) the massive amount of garbage generated world wide.