A year-long project closes, but not entirely

The Great Lakes have always been a part of my life. Years spent along Michigan's west coast and upper peninsula have taught me to love swimming in frigid crystal waters, running sand dunes and even long winters of picturesque iceberg-engulfed shorelines. Never did I see myself studying the ecology of the lakes, though. Let alone for an entire year. 

With the arrival of the O'Brien Fellows – Lillian Thomas from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Hal Bernton from the Seattle Times and Dan Egan from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – to Marquette, students, weary of expectations, weren't quite sure what to make of the new opportunity. However, a few students jumped at the bit to work with them – myself included. I was interested in each of the topics presented – carbon emissions, health care and Great Lakes ecology – but there was one obvious choice given my background. 

My time with Egan brought me up to speed on the invasive species epidemic in the Great Lakes, one which I had ignored during my childhood. I researched Asian carp, zebra and quagga mussels, killer shrimp, ballast water treatment and shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway, until I found myself drowning in Great Lakes ecological issues. But with all of the research I was able to generate two interactive timelines before graduation day. 

Before Egan's analysis on the Army Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study was published in February 2014, I created a historical timeline of Asian carp and Chicago River with two other Marquette students using Knight Lab's TimelineJS tool. Also, prior to the release of Egan's four-part series in July, I used Knight Lab's new StoryMap JS tool to generate a historical timeline of the St. Lawrence Seaway and its role in introducing invasive species into the Great Lakes. 

Summer 

When it came time to apply for the O'Brien summer internship positions I was, again, torn. Did I want to go to Seattle or Pittsburgh and work with new stories, or stick around Milwaukee a bit longer and continue with Egan's project? The Journal Sentinel ended up being the right fit – if not only for the fact that I got to see the entire project to it's end, but the people enhanced my experience tenfold. 

Instead of being assigned to a metro beat I was able to format my internship to focus on multimedia and interactive journalism. Within my first two weeks I shot and edited a video and photo gallery for Egan's next series. Using coding and a newly designed webpage template created by Jenn Amur, Journal Sentinel digital projects designer and producer, I was trained to produce Egan's four-day series.  

I wasn't just confined to working with Egan's series the rest of my summer, though. I co-reported and assisted in building an interactive map with reporter Kevin Crowe looking at privately funded congressional travel in Wisconsin. Although still related to the Great Lakes, I also reported a 1A centerpiece watchdog update on Great Lakes water levels. Along with writing the story, I shot and edited video and contributed photos. And, with some guidance from Allan Vestal, the Journal Sentinel's news application developer, I built two interactive choropleth maps using landline.js, a javascript library started by ProPublica. A map of the United States was used to enhance a report on nation-wide social structures, while a Wisconsin counties map will be used later for daily reporting and special sections.

Take-aways

I came into the summer unsure of what my role as an O'Brien intern would be, but left knowing production and development was where I wanted to stay. And thanks to some very kind words and votes of confidence I received a three-month extension, allowing me to continue at the Journal Sentinel as a night hub production intern. 

Working with data and being a part of digital meetings throughout the summer added to my knowledge of how a newsroom needs to function in order to survive in a digital landscape. 

Training with producers during my first three months helped me prepare for my next stint at the Pulitzer Prize-winning legacy paper, and I feel I am better prepared to work in a production, development or possibly data-driven role in the future.   

To view all of my work with the Journal Sentinel click here.

Update: As of January 2015 I am a full-time employee of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.