Two students in the JMSC’s Master of Journalism programme have produced an interactive timeline of the recent National Security Agency intelligence leaks – which made headlines all over the world – that was picked up by the South China Morning Post earlier this week.
Henry Williams (MJ, 2013) and Joanne Lam (MJ, 2013) created the timeline to illustrate the story that developed when Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor, leaked classified information about US government surveillance programs to The Washington Post and The Guardian.
The timeline follows the story, which first broke on June 7, up to the present time, showing both what is known about Snowden and when it was known: his employment history, his private life, and his movements from selling his house in Hawaii to flying to Hong Kong on May 20.
In addition to Snowden’s biographical information, the timeline includes links to debates the story has sparked in the media, how the US government and the public have reacted to news of the leaks, and the implications of Snowden’s presence in Hong Kong on relations between the United States and China.
The timeline also provides background to give the story context: for example, a link to the USA Today report that the NSA was secretly collecting Americans’ private information in 2006, and then-Senator Barack Obama’s comments on national security when he was running for president in 2007.
“We basically curated a lot of information – including background, major newspaper articles and reports, and other context – into one easy-to-digest story,” Lam said. “With a breaking story with such international significance, there are obviously a lot of stories and opinions out there. A timeline like this helps the audience structure the events clearly, which is harder to do through just text.”
The idea to create an infographic for the story came from AJ Libunao, a JMSC online media producer. Libunao said that when the Snowden story first broke, he thought there might be a way to do something with the information already out there to make it new and interesting enough to pitch to a newspaper.
“A lot of media organizations don’t have much in the way of stories that aren’t text-and-picture-based stories,” Libunao said. “So they are hungry for alternative ways to show information to an audience. Our students are trained in online tools and visual storytelling, and Henry and Joanne came up with something that made it easier for the audience to see what’s been going on without having to sift through a bunch of different stories for information.”
Lam said the JMSC programme taught her to use digital skills in new and creative ways. “Courses at the JMSC taught me to how to present stories more visually, and how to use technology so that stories can be consumed by the audience in an easier way,” Lam said. “I am now confident to produce a story that encompasses more than just text.”
The timeline, which was also picked up by Shanghaiist online news site, will continue to be updated by Wiliams and Lam as the story develops.