Feature article from the January 2012 AIRblast 

Join the Pubmedia Vanguard!

By Jessica Clark

Each week, AIR Media Strategist Jessica Clark combs through 200-plus sites to uncover inventive producers, reporters, developers, and media artists, and sends out an email showcasing the top five gems. From these, she's compiled a list of The 11 Most Intriguing Transmedia Projects of the Year. Get a taste of these creative and exciting projects and then join AIR's New Network (it's free!) to keep pace with innovators who are transforming public media from the bottom up.


What's the next frontier for radio journalists and sound artists? This is a question that AIR has been pondering in depth over the past few years — first via the public media projects invented by the Makers Quest 2.0 producers, and now through Localore, AIR's open call for public stations to incubate producer-led projects designed to reach beyond traditional audiences and platforms.

Mounting these two public media transformation projects has connected AIR staff and producers to an inspiring set of makers, funders, and public media leaders around the country — a new public media network that hooks into existing broadcast distribution networks, but is distinguished by bottom-up ingenuity. In order to build stronger links among these innovators, AIR has created the New Network list, which we've now opened up to anyone who wants to join.

Each Thursday, I send members the Public Media Scan, an email featuring five links culled from more than 200 blogs and sites covering innovations in journalism, gaming, documentary, and more. AIR's goal is to help drive the transformation in news and public media that's underway, to dissolve some of the institutional barriers between producers, radio and television stations, and the networks to build out a broader ecosystem of reinvention. We figure if we can help make all of us smarter, it'll benefit us all in the long run. It's free to join, and complements the tips and discussion about audio production that AIR members already enjoy via the AIRdaily.

To give you a taste, I've culled the 11 most intriguing transmedia projects featured in the Scan in 2011. What, you might be wondering, does "transmedia" mean, and why should audio producers care? The term itself has inspired lively debate across the creative industries over the past few years, with various factions lobbying instead for "multiplatform storytelling," "digital integration," or even "interactionism." Call it what you will — the craft of creating projects that tell a related story across multiple platforms and engage audiences through both social media and offline touchpoints is evolving swiftly.

Audio producers are perfectly positioned to develop or collaborate on such projects. Sound is an intrinsic element in creating many immersive media experiences. Also, radio journalists are skilled in crafting tight copy that grabs ears. This positions them perfectly for the quick-hit productions that have become so popular online. Not all of the projects highlighted below feature audio, but all of them offer creative fodder for constructing exciting and sometimes gorgeous multifaceted stories. Taken together, they also provide a few best practices.

First, interface is king. Nothing kills an ambitious multiplatform effort faster than a clunky point of entry. Second, the person-to-person connection is still the most important element of any production. As MoMA curator Paola Antonelli explained to producer Benjamin Walker in a recent interview featured in Roman Mars' 99% Invisible, when dealing with new technologies, the key is to focus not on human-machine interactions, but on human-human ones. Finally, innovation is often a collaborative endeavor. Transmedia productions are more akin to the experience of filmmaking than to independent reporting — they rely upon and benefit from partnerships, not only with other makers but also, more and more commonly, with audience members.

So, here are 11 projects in 2011 demonstrating new modes of reporting, documentary, and public engagement that made me say, "Wow!" I hope that they'll motivate you too.

1.    Economics Personified. Filmmaker Hélène Choquette captures a year in Canada's meltdown with bilingual interactive documentary GDP.

2.    History's Next Draft. Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat lead the 18 Days in Egypt collaboration, inviting participants to curate social media from January's uprising.

3.    Supermax City. Philippe Brault and David Dufresne immerse users in a Colorado town where 13 prisons dominate both the economy and inhabitants' lives.

4.    Finding Silence. Columbia urban design students map NYC noise complaints to locate quiet spots for the Guggenheim's stillspotting events.

5.    Public Radio Page Turner. Planet Money's Adam Davidson gets visual in a Wired cover package on the smartest jobs in America.

6.    Reclaiming Detroit, Inch by Inch. Loveland, run by artist-entrepreneur Jerry Paffendorf, sells "microhoods" in the Motor City to support both digital and physical public works projects.

7.    Remixing Jailmail. Between the Bars provides a platform for prisoners to "blog on paper" via scanned PDFs, crowdsourced transcription, and social notification tools.

8.    Fault Line Living. From Iceland to Iran, this project documents a team of journalists' 15,000-mile journey to capture and tell the stories of people living under seismic threat.

9.    This Canadian Life. NFB's breathtakingly beautiful interactive documentary Pine Point tells the story of a community wiped off the map.

10.    Follow the Memory Trail. Game designer Ken Eklund worked with the Balboa Park Online Collaborative to create the haunting cellphone-based adventure Giskin Anomaly.

11.    Stigma, Passion, Drama. Students from Chapel Hill and Mexico City teamed up to produce the colorful interactive documentary Reframing Mexico.

As these examples richly demonstrate, reporters and documentarians are now much more readily experimenting with storytelling techniques that were previously the domain of feature filmmakers, gamers, and marketers. It's about time, according to veteran news photographer Kevin Moloney. "We journalists need to find the public across a very diverse mediascape rather than expecting them to come to us," he writes in his miniature manifesto for transmedia journalism. "The days of the captive journalism audience are over."

Interested in discovering more inventive makers and projects in 2012? Join the New Network to receive AIR's weekly Public Media Scan email. Do you know of a project that should be included? Email AIR Media Strategist Jessica Clark at