9 under-the-radar ONA finalist’s projects you need to see

The Online News Association’s contest finalist list is always a source of inspiration for me. When it arrived in my email Monday I started scouring it to find great projects that I would use in my Poynter teaching.

Some of the more highly publicized projects you may have already seen, but if you haven’t, you should check these out:

I was delighted to find some other magnificent reporting I had not seen before the finalist list came out and wanted to share some of my favorites. (Disclosure: I have no inside information of who will win the ONA awards and I have not gone through everything on the finalist list so don’t feel left out if your project is not mentioned here.)

Sex Predators Unleashed, South Florida Sun Sentinel: Pulitzer-winner Sally Keston and Dana Williams wrote a stunning report on “Rapists and pedophiles freed by the state went on to molest 460 children, rape 121 women and kill 14.” The project prompted state lawmakers to change Florida’s sex offender laws. The project included video and a searchable database of 594 sex offenders who were convicted of new sex crimes once they were released. The investigation also shows who gets rich, yes gets rich, from being expert witnesses in sex abuse cases.

The Good Life: The Movement that Changed Maine, Bangor Daily News, Maine: This is a rich multimedia story filled with video, audio and wonderful photos documenting the story of how 60 years ago, a movement started as city dwellers sought a way to get back to the land and out of the hassle of city life. The story includes the couple that others came to look up to as the founders of the movement. The music, the navigation, the simple photos are a joy to breeze through.

31 Days, 31 Ways, The Texas Tribune: This story is remarkable because it is so smartly designed.  The Tribune found 31 new laws that would take hold in September and explained each one in some details. Over 31 days, they rolled out the ways the new laws would affect Texans. Some in big ways and some not so big but this is something every newsroom could adapt every year rather than dumping a summary on the public all at once. I especially liked the “calendar view” the Tribune offered.

Betrayed by Silence, Minnesota Public Radio News: Sadly, it is a story we have seen before and it does not seem to end. MPR traces the decades of sexual abuse covered up by leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The website includes a “quick guide” a useful timeline and breaks the complex story into chapters for easy navigation.

Boston’s Mayoral Race: Square by Square, WBUR: This is election reporting that goes block by block through the city to explain how the landscape of a big city is made up of distinct communities with unique needs.

Wild Horses In Crisis, Oregon Public Broadcasting: It is nice to see television moving to rich online reporting. The video is stunning.

Hollow, Hollow Interactive:  They warn you that it is best to experience this with headphones. The slow load is worth the wait. The story is about the many places in America where “more people leave than stay.” The story explores McDowell County, West Virginia in a rich multimedia way. After you scroll through the timeline, you begin to explore the deeper stories of the boom and bust of so many rural communities like this one. After a while, I realized many of the still images were clickable with rich hidden stories in them. I spent a half-hour on this site and got the feeling I was barely mining the richness of it.

Proof: For Many Rape Victims in Maine, Justice Comes Only From Being Believed, Bangor Daily News Maine:  I am not sure what is going on in Bangor but this website has produced some blockbuster projects in the last year. This one shows one in five Maine residents will be the victim of rape or attempted rape. Many victims appear to tell their stories. Others explain why they didn’t report what happened to them because they feared nobody would believe them.

ER Wait Watcher, ProPublica: This one explores how long it takes to get seen in America’s waiting rooms. Not only can you look state-by-state but click into the state and see hospital-by-hospital what the wait times are. See how long it will take before you are released and how long it takes to get transferred to a room for additional care. The stories that flow from this data seem endless.

And for those of you who wonder what the next generation of journalists looks like. Be impressed by these finalists:

STUDENT PROJECTS, SMALL

STUDENT PROJECTS, LARGE

The winners will be announced at the 2014 ONA Conference and Online Journalism Awards Banquet on Saturday, Sept. 27, in Chicago.

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