In summer 2013, my editor and I teamed up with an young web development startup, Vibethink, to do something ambitious: use a Snow Fall-like multimedia platform to report on a transportation policy debate that had divided the community around Charlottesville, Virginia for decades. Great online storytelling shouldn’t be reserved for sprawling feature writing, we thought, and what better way to break down dense, wonky, but important topics than with a compelling narrative made beautiful and readable on the Web?
The Road was groundbreaking in that no paper our size had attempted anything like it. It required working with non-journalists to build an experience for the reader around an issue, a kind of collaboration that was completely new to me.
It also ended up being a great story. I convinced two arch enemies—a longtime Republican elected official and a land-use planner for a conservation nonprofit—to get in the back of my Honda and let me drive them through the rural countryside with a GoPro camera stuck to my windshield, tracing the eventual route of a long-planned, much-fought-over bypass. Details of the history of the project and the political battle it ignited, travel and traffic data, and even public meeting audio came together in one single-page interactive.
The piece was written up by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Street Fight, and the Columbia Journalism Review, and won a multimedia award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
And the bypass? When we published, the Virginia Department of Transportation was waiting on final approval from the Federal Highway Administration. It got shot down. The state is now dismantling its plan and preparing to sell off tens of millions of dollars worth of right-of-way land.