Amanda Zamora left The Washington Post last year to be part of the start-up team that would launch The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. The independent nonprofit journalism venture, funded by various donors (including, of course, The Huffington Post, but also the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Knight Foundation) and based in Washington, D.C., is part of a new breed of open-source reporting endeavors that distribute work freely to anyone who wants to publish it, in print or online. Zamora, the site’s multimedia editor, was kind enough to answer a few questions about how it’s going almost one year in.
1. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund aims to be an online innovator of investigative reporting. What’s the role of multimedia in bringing those stories to life?
It’s certainly an important part. Good multimedia gives our journalism more impact and makes it more accessible. Investigative journalism is often rather document- and data-heavy, but ultimately these are stories that involve real people. For instance, one of our core coverage areas right now is the financial crisis. How do you make toxic securities compelling? We did a short video on Eliseo Guardado, a Maryland man desperately trying to modify the terms of his subprime mortgage so that he can save his home. His story allowed us to visually trace the roots of a subprime mortgage to the investor market, and to make the consequences of fraudulent lending very tangible to our viewers. Aside from traditional video, we’re also always looking for the right opportunities to leverage platforms such as Flickr and YouTube Direct to engage our audience and build stories from the outside in.
2. What’s the coolest story or project you have had a chance to work on in your new position?
The subprime mortgage video that I mentioned before was very rewarding. At The Washington Post, I oversaw the work of our video journalists, designers and producers on enterprise packages. Here, I get to be more hands on, playing with graphics and shooting/editing video myself. I’m also stoked to slowly get our staff up and running on Twitter. As we build our citizen journalism strategy, having a collective voice and a presence in these communities will go a long way toward helping us engage with readers (and potential tipsters!). Also, getting our CMS and Web site up and running from scratch in about a month’s time was quite an experience.
3. Do you miss anything about being at The Washington Post? What made you leave?
I grew up in the Post newsroom and I’m grateful to the many talented people there — both online and in print — who helped me grow as a journalist. But the media landscape is fundamentally changing, and I am happy to be with a small and nimble group of talented journalists committed to forging a new way ahead.
4. Working in uncharted territory has to be both exciting and a little bit daunting. Where do you look for inspiration?
We’ve got a great group of peers, including our friends at ProPublica (their recent collaboration with the Times-Picayune and Front Line on New Orleans police conduct after Hurricane Katrina included crowd-sourcing for crime scene leads) and newer outfits like California Watch and Texas Tribune, all of whom are doing terrific work. In terms of making the financial crisis and its aftermath accessible, This American Life and Planet Money continue to set a high bar. Otherwise, the best stuff tends to percolate on Twitter. That’s how I first learned of the Guardian’s innovative crowd-sourcing of MP expense reports last summer. It’s also how I keep tabs on the latest and greatest multimedia from the likes of The New York Times. I started a Twitter list for multimedia resources (you’re on there, Matt!), and I’d be grateful for contributions. You can send me your suggestions to @amzam.
5. Does Arianna Huffington ever just swing by?
She’s been in town a few times, yes. As chair of our board, she is very engaged and supportive. But for the most part, I keep up with her on Twitter and cable like the rest of America.
Matt Mansfield is an associate professor at Northwestern University and the co-director of the Medill School of Journalism’s Washington program. Mansfield was president of SND in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @mattmansfield