CTV producer uses ArcGIS StoryMaps to win a national award for digital storytelling

September 17, 2020 Mary Ambrose

For the second time, CTV News wins a national award for their superior digital storytelling using ArcGIS StoryMaps.

When the Truth and Reconciliation report about the damage endured by Aboriginal and First Nation people recommended that the Canadian media should provide “news coverage and online public information resources on issues of concern to Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians”, Aphrodite Salas, now a journalism professor at Concordia University in Montréal, had an idea. A great project for her students would be to report about how the Ojibway Nation of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek-Gull Bay First Nation was going to solve a long-standing problem they had accessing electricity, despite living next to a huge hydro station.

The students flew to Thunder Bay, Ontario and then drove 200-kilometres north to Gull Bay, which is on the shores of Lake Nipigon. They collected video about the long, painful struggle to get energy into this community, which finally has a happy ending. The community is installing solar panels that are both ensuring clean sustainable energy for their own use and addressing climate change. From the video, shot on an iPhone, the students produced a 9-minute-long documentary, “From Shore to Sky: a reconciliation story”.

Aphrodite hoped her former colleague at CTV, Amy Luft, would have interest in the story and post it on the CTV site. Amy definitely wanted it and Aphrodite’s account of how she got the story was so good CTV asked her to write the story of how it happened.

Amy thought the story deserved more. Always interested in digital storytelling, she had access to an ArcGIS Online licence, though had not used it much. She knew this story would make a great story map even though it would be her first one.

It took a week to build Gull Bay First Nation: Then and Now as Amy did it while performing her usual duties.

Her colleague Phil Hahn had won a digital media award for his story map about the battle of Vimy Ridge, so she turned to him, and Esri Canada when she felt she needed help, which wasn’t often.

“I kept tweaking it – on weekends, on evenings – I wanted it to be great. I thought the story deserved that, and Esri Canada, as a company, has always been available to help me, to answer my questions. I’d find there was a trick I didn’t know, or if I felt confused, a five-minute call, and I got it. Often it took only 1 or 2 sentences and that was all I needed,” Amy says.

The story map was so good that the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA Canada), which describes itself as the voice of electronic and digital journalists and news managers in Canada, gave Amy the large market Digital Media Award, a second win for CTV using ArcGIS StoryMaps.

“I used mapping technology as a starting point to situate the story and approach the narrative from that vantage point. My goal was to ensure the digital feature would complement and highlight the project in a spirit of collaboration,” says Amy.

“We went into it hoping that the extra time was going to pay off and although we wanted to submit it, we hoped to win for a region, but to win it nationally was really an honour, especially with this story,” she says.

Gull Bay First Nation Chief Wilfrid King was also thrilled that the story got such big play.

“I think people were really excited as the digital department isn’t very big – we are a broadcaster. This award helped bolster our role in the newsroom,” notes Amy.

In fact, since then, Amy has been promoted to Supervising Producer of Digital Content for CTV Montréal and on her new team is Katelyn Thomas, one of the Concordia students who worked on the story and has since been hired fulltime by CTV.

Recently, Amy used StoryMaps to present how data reveals a link between household income and the spread of COVID-19. The story map Is public health a privilege? is featured in her article: COVID-19 hits poorer Montréal boroughs hardest, data reveals, with Montréal North bearing the brunt.

If you’re interested in creating your own story map, visit esri.ca/storymaps.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Mary Ambrose

Mary Ambrose is a Public Relations Specialist for Esri Canada. She has spent most of her career as a journalist working in public broadcasting for CBC in Canada, BBC in the UK and NPR in the US before she began working in corporate communications. GIS has helped her understand the world in a compelling new way.

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