My favorite multimedia: What I've been working on this year

In honor of my birthday tomorrow, I am taking a look back at the most interesting multimedia projects I have created or contributed to this year.

Best in Song

By now most people have seen a tag cloud like the one in the rail of this blog, but I believed that the concept could be taken further. While brainstorming for ideas for coverage of the Academy Awards for Entertainment Weekly, I realized that many of the Best Song lyrics contained similar themes. To find if this was true, I tracked down the lyrics to 40 years worth of best song lyrics, put them all in one document and uploaded the results to TagCrowd, an online tag cloud creator. Love, of course, was number one with 75 occurrences.

I then took the results and manually weighted and arranged them into the shape of an Oscar statuette. The process required the painstaking creation of more than 200 buttons in Flash, but the results were both stunning and satisfying.

Exploring the Kanye-verse

The idea for a graphic of rapper Kanye West’s influences and production credits came from this print graphic by Andrew Saeger of the Times-Union. I had saved the graphic in my inspiration files and pulled it up when the opportunity to do a story on West arose. The print graphic itself is amazing and well-researched and lent itself to creating a very visual online piece.

Landmark Moments in Gay Hollywood

Entertainment Weekly’s gay Hollywood cover story got an online punch with a couple of YouTube videos and a whole lot of research. The examination of pivotal films that explored gay content required endless movie watching, several trips to the bookstore and a couple of days combing YouTube for supporting videos. The subject matter took me out of my box and required several readings of the NLGJA Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology, but like many reporters I became an expert (in my mind) on the subject after writing the story. The piece was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for digital journalism.

Fighting Wildfires: An Uphill Battle

Creating this graphic about California wildfires for the L.A. Times was itself an uphill battle. The Flash project is a fully animated version of a static, full-page graphic that had ran in the paper some time before. The project took weeks to create and required the conversion of an Illustrator file into Flash vector graphics. It was further complicated by the addition of animated elements like spinning helicopter blades, moving fire, spraying water, moving embers and rolling fire trucks. In short it was a nightmare, but became one of the go-to graphics during wildfire season.

Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Map

After a traumatizing event several years ago involving a day care van flipped over on a freeway, I vowed to steer clear of cop reporting. So I was dismayed when I was asked to organize the data from Jill Leovy’s homicide blog so it could be made into a searchable database of facts and figures. I was horrified at one of the hundreds of murders I had to read through and cursed ever accepting the assignment.

The outcome was well worth the psychological damage. The team who built the database did an excellent job and I commend Jill for taking on such as arduous task.

Black & Gold

I previously mentioned my thoughts on Black History Month, yet I created this piece on black Oscar winners and nominees not as a tie-in to the observance, but because it was an untold story. It also happens that Black History Month and awards season happen at the same time. There are (mostly incomplete) lists of said honorees circulating the Internet, but I believed adding the stories behind the trophies, in addition to pictures and video, would make for a stronger multimedia piece. My favorite part of this project was watching the video of actors like Halle Berry, Hattie McDaniel and Cuba Gooding, Jr. accepting the Academy Award and the deep meaning it had for them.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I have a pair of dirty, ripped, worn out shoes that were brand new when I bought them, but after two weeks walking on dirt roads under the heat of the African sun became the disheveled pair I own today. I refuse to discard them because of what they represent: my time in spent in Ghana researching the lives of gay men and women for whom simply living is a struggle. Homosexuality is illegal in Ghana and those accused of the “crime” face public ostracism and jail time. So it wasn’t easy for an American to waltz into the country and start interviewing people. Like many of the aforementioned stories, the project required untold amounts of research to track down the hidden enclaves where gay men congregated, the beaches where men sold their bodies to male tourists and the gay leaders fighting for rights in a country that refused to recognize them.

The project, which was funded through a grant from UC Berkeley School of Journalism, ultimately consisted of three detailed print stories and three multimedia pieces. The multimedia components were belabored by last minute design flaws, but ultimately went on to win the NLGJA award for Student Journalism. The people I met and the lessons I learned while reporting the project will stay with me forever, kind of like those shoes.