Project Jacmel

While it won a National Newspaper Award in the multimedia feature category, Project Jacmel isn’t a single feature. It’s more a collection of text stories, videos, photo galleries, and blog posts about a single place – Jacmel, a city of 148,000 in southern Haiti that was ravaged by the 2010 earthquake.

Covering an entire city, even a small one, is a tall order (just look at the mileage multiple classes from the University of Ohio have gotten out of the town of Athens). To narrow down the scope, Project Jacmel focuses on seven core subjects: a shopkeeper, a tent city, a hotel, a film student, the politicians and business leaders of the community, a group of artisans, and a church.

For each subject there are different articles documenting the disaster, the rebuild, and the future, which were added over the course of the year following the earthquake, allowing the reader to follow the slow rebuilding of Haiti through different characters.

How It Works

The user can browse through lists of text articles, videos, and photo galleries sorted by subject matter (the aforementioned  seven, plus another section of articles about the city one year after the earthquake, and stories that didn’t fit elsewhere under the heading “more stories”).

A sidebar provides information about the project, a selection of important numbers (the number of dead, the number of houses destroyed, etc.), and a link to the Project Jacmel blog, which includes shorter, more informal posts about the city’s recovery as well as extra photos and videos.

The Globe opted to present the content of Project Jacmal like any other content on its website instead of building a separate Flash space for it as they had done with Behind The Veil and Talking To The Taliban.

There is also a menu that allows the user to browse content by media type.

A Google map shows where all of the subjects are located in the city, and also links to that content.

What Works, What Doesn’t

There is a ton of content here. So much so that it can be difficult for the user to find their way around.

The problem is the navigation. Trying to tie together so many stories without building a separate site to house them can make a jumble of things. The pages for the seven subjects list all of associated content in parts, but it isn’t always clear which parts are about the disaster, which are about the rebuild, and which are about the future. And there are often more than one piece of content listed as “Part 1” or “Part 2”. It’s all a bit confusing.

This problem doesn’t help the overall narrative. Following a single subject is easy enough. But where do the extra articles fit in? And what about the blog posts? Finding the larger narrative of Jacmel beyond individual shopkeepers, politicians, or artisans is left to the reader.

The stories themselves are well-done. Different types of media are well-used. The text articles add wider context while the videos tend to be more personal. When a shopkeeper says on camera that she doesn’t know what she’s going to do because her husband is sick and can’t help her, the user can see the uncertain look on her face. But because each part was created to stand on its own there is a fair amount of overlap in the type of information covered by the videos and text articles.

But what Project Jacmel lacks in cohesiveness and ease of navigation, it makes up for in scale. With so many pieces published over such a long period, readers can put the pieces together to get a very vivid picture of place and time.

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