OPINION: Hopeful reactions to serious disaster coverage

The world witnessed many catastrophes over the course of 2010 — from the horrors of the magnitude 7.1 quake in northwest China to the saga of the trapped miners in Chile. After looking at hundreds of entries about natural disasters, our judges and facilitators shared a few that touched them.

Claudia Strong

Claudia Strong, Syracuse University news design instructor, was attached to the story of the Chilean miners. A Chilean native herself, Strong was drawn to the information graphics on one page in particular. “You almost don’t have to know the story in order to feel the magnitude of what happened to them,” Strong said. “It reminded me of our shared humanity and how we’re built to overcome.”

Entry on Chilean miners from Expresso. The circle represents the real measurements of the hole through which the miners were rescued.

Jason Chiu

Another entry about the Chilean rescue story stuck with Jason Chiu, design editor of The Globe & Mail in Toronto. “The page has a huge back circle on it, and it was the size of the hole through which miners were rescued.” Chiu said. “By looking at it and seeing the measurement, you could almost step into it.”

Jonathan Boho, art director for Metromix Indianapolis Magazine, remembers a photo from the earthquake in China, “It wasn’t just about the pain. The photo story ended with a girl playing jumping rope — there is hope.” Boho said. “It took you through a whole range of emotions.”

Jonathan Boho

An image from the St. Petersburg Times' "The Swan Project" by writer Lane DeGregory and photographer Kathleen Flynn

Joanna Penalva

Some domestic stories, such as “The Swan Project” by St. Petersburg Times, almost made Joanna Penalva tear up. Penalva, a student facilitator from SU, recalls the project that profiled a Jamaican woman who transformed the lives of a group of teenage girls through an etiquette class. “I felt horrible to see girls live like that,” Penalva said, “but something as old-fashioned as proper manners can redirect the girls onto the right path. It was something people don’t think about now.”

So it seems that on the judging tables of Syracuse a page’s effectiveness isn’t necessarily just about whether it wins a medal, but that rather that it connects with readers, that it conveys a compelling story in a heartfelt, memorable way.