Organisation: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Organisation size: Big
My journalism career started more than a decade ago in Australia’s outback where I was a radio reporter covering everything from Indigenous land rights battles to the expansion of some of the world’s largest mines.
While my early years as a reporter was in broadcast journalism, the second half of my career to date has been focused on digital journalism. This is where I developed a passion for telling stories in creative and innovative ways.
Currently I work in a team with the ABC called, Digital Story Innovations. The team is made up of data journalists, developers, a designer and video and social media specialists. We are a visual journalism team specialising in the production of data-driven, interactive features and investigations.
While I personally work across an array of topics, my passion lies in telling and investigating stories using satellite and geospatial data. Over the years honing my skills in this field I’ve produced pieces identifying re-education camps in remote China, mapping the territorial demise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and using remote sensing data to plot the disastrous impact of record breaking droughts on Australia’s water supplies and the towns that rely on them.
By combining largely open-source satellite imagery and data together with more traditional styles of reporting, I’ve been able to tell stories from the front line of battlefields and from some of the most remote, hostile parts of the world.
Being part of a team that is constantly looking to innovate and evolve the way we tell stories, in 2021 I took a more ambitious approach to telling these stories. I experimented with more in depth analysis and data preparation using QGIS, a program for working with geographic data. I explored new, more immersive ways to bring readers into the story. I experimented with new ways to bring 3D data to life in the browser, using Webgl technology and even teaching myself how to use the 3D software Blender to create complex elevation models.
These techniques have struck a chord with our readers. The average engagement time for these pieces is much higher than our site average, meaning our audience is sticking on these stories for longer.
But as I have done throughout my career, I am constantly learning, seeking out new ways to improve the way we tell stories. I get inspired by the amazing researchers who constantly come up with new ways to use remote sensing to better understand the Earth.
Description of portfolio:
This portfolio is a series of mapping and geodata-based projects that I completed in 2021, featuring a range of different techniques including 3D terrain modelling, open-source investigative techniques using satellite imagery.
The first project ‘Lawless’ Loggers used high-resolution LiDAR digital elevation data, that we uncovered through Freedom of Information Laws. The data allowed us to investigate claims the state-run timber company VicForests was conducting widespread and systemic illegal logging in vital water catchments.
The researchers, who we worked with, used the terrain data to calculate a slope for every pixel in the digital elevation model. My role in this project saw me use the open-source software QGIS, to analyse, style and prepare this slope data. I then exported all of our geospatial data, (slope rasters, digital elevation model, vector boundary data) to create a 3D model of one of the worst affected regions in our investigation.
I created the model in Blender using an add-on called BlenderGIS which allowed us to work with georeferenced rasters and vectors in a 3D animation project. I used Blender to build a sequence that stepped our audience through the research and investigation. This tricky process involved overlaying satellite and vector data onto a highly detailed mesh of the terrain.
As a result of our investigation into VicForests, the Victorian government announced it would be enforcing tougher regulation of the logging company and they would face greater oversight by the regulator. The accusations revealed in the story were also referred to the state’s corruption watchdog.
The next project in the portfolio was a quick turnaround investigation of a landslide, and subsequent flood, in the Himalayas that killed scores of people and wiped out critical infrastructure. The piece ‘Tracing the path of destruction in India’s Himalayas’ used open-source investigative techniques to piece together what had happened in the aftermath of the landslide. I geolocated videos from social media and matched that up with the damage that could be seen from satellite data I had sourced from the commercial satellite operator Planet Labs. This painstaking process involved me scouring satellite imagery up and down the Dhauli Ganga River to identify where these videos had been captured.
I researched and wrote the story, georeferenced the videos, sourced the satellite images, styled everything in Illustrator and compiled the story in under 24 hours.
Some of my recent work has focused on tensions along the China-India border. As part of our research, we got wind of China’s plans to construct what would be the biggest hydroelectric dam on the planet. The stretch of river where the dam would go is one of the most geologically active places on earth, in the world’s deepest gorge and in one of Earth’s tallest mountains. To convey just how treacherous and complex construction of this dam would be, I worked with our developer Katia Shatoba who used Webgl technology to create a 3D model of the terrain. This allowed readers to get some sense of the rugged terrain. I complimented this using spatial datasets to create visualisations of earthquake activity in the region, China’s love of dams, as well as custom hillshade wide maps of the region.
Other projects in the portfolio that are similar in style include examining the breaking up of the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica, mapping New Zealand’s Alpine Fault line and customising a 3D sequence of Earthquake modelling scenarios, and further investigation of potential illegal logging in Victoria.