My Favorite Multimedia of 2009

This time of year is chock-full of retrospectives and top ten lists, bests and worsts, reflections and resolutions. A lot of hot breath has been exhaled this past year over the demise of newspapers and the resulting decline of western civilization as we know it. Doom-and-gloomers wonder how will we know what’s happening, what’s true, or what matters, without the traditional mediators telling us what we should know — and sometimes what we should think.

But optimists among us find many rays of hope in this evolving universe. We’re not joyful over the loss of news industry jobs, the explosion of infotainment, nor the end of community institutions we once respected. But we see the forest: New technologies are ushering in an era of unimagined possibilities, an emerging participatory culture where information doesn’t just flow down from media gods on high, it ripples out in a more organic and grassroots and democratic way, enabling us to connect as one people, across boundaries of geography and language and culture. Thanks to social networks, GPS and real-time interactive mobile gaming, we no longer have to go “Bowling Alone.”

Spiritual visions aside, lots of good things are going on from hyperlocal to investigative collaborations to news apps. So, on that note, I want to share a few of my favorite sites of the year. First, I’ll say that this is my very own opinion and doesn’t represent AIR or its members in any way. Disclaimer aside, I do declare that the 8 MQ2 projects were among the coolest of the cool stuff in digital storytelling in 2009. But since I’ve been saying that over and over again, you won’t find links to those projects below (although you will find them in the right hand nav bar, as always). Second, I’ll admit that some of these sites may have launched before 2009, but since I only discovered them this year, they are on my list. That’s why it’s called MY list…Please feel free to add to it and add your comments below.

1. Through A Lens Darkly is a brilliant project, the brainchild of media artist Thomas Allen Harris. It is both a film in progress and digital archive of the African American experience as documented by professional and amateur photographers. I saw Thomas in action earlier this year at the IMA conference where he did an “Antiques Roadshow” meets “StoryCorps” performance. I helped with this event, in which we invited Atlanta residents to bring favorite family photos to be scanned for the archive and then selected a few to be interviewed live on stage in a discussion of black family history and power of images.

2. Five Farms: Stories from American Farm Families is a poetic and powerful documentary project about the dwindling population of people who nurture the land and grow the food we take for granted. This gorgeously produced series was birthed by an all-star team of media makers at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. It aired on PRI’s “Here and Now” and BBC’s “Outlook.”

3. Baby, it’s cold outside and you might want to snuggle up under a nice, warm quilt, you know the one made by your grandma? Or maybe it’s too beautiful to use and instead belongs on a wall of a museum? One of the coolest exhibits I saw this year was called “Quilts for Obama” and it included some amazingly intricate works of art in celebration of our first African American President. Quilting and storytelling seem to go hand-in-hand. I remember seeing a play called “Quilters” many years ago, about frontierswomen’s lives as told through the quilting bee. In a similar vein, the site I’m recommending — the International Quilt Study Center & Museum — is a place where quilters can share the stories behind their stitches.

4. Lives Wasted is a powerful documentary project about the human impact of drug addiction. It’s certain to win a slew of well-deserved awards. I won’t say more other than to urge you to check it out. 

5. Don’t be surprised that some of the very best work is still coming from the behemoths of the news industry. The New York Times did an amazing series of profiles of regular folk called “One in 8 Million.” It’s a moving multimedia tribute to 54 “ordinary” people who make life in the big city better for others because of the little things they do. It’s a gem. 

6. And, don’t be surprised that some of the very best work is coming from students. News21 is a portal for a diversity of thematic multimedia projects being produced at some of the country’s leading J-schools. The site is rich with content that shows just how bright the future of journalism promises to be in the new digital world.

7. Last, but not least, there’s love. Let me point cupid’s arrow (your browser) in the direction of Our First Loves, a Medill school experiment in which people share their tales of falling in or out of love, with people, pets, ideas, you name it. It’s true, this particular project didn’t liberate anyone wrongly convicted or get anyone off death row, but it’s a noble effort nonetheless. It’s about love, and what could possibly be more important? All you need is love..

May you find the love you are looking for in 2010.