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Creative Project proposal

Candidate: Nichole Stevens


Degree track: MS-Journalism
Topic: Neonatal abstinence syndrome
Project: Multimedia feature story
Committee members: Dr. Nick Geidner (committee chair), Dr. Julie Andsager and
Dr. Michael Martinez
Defense date: Nov.16, 2015 from 1-3 p.m.
Location: 264 Comm.
The problem my creative project will cover is how mothers of Neonatal Abstinence
Syndrome babies are dealing with finding treatment options, especially after Tennessee
passed a law that can criminalize mothers who give birth to NAS children. Some mothers
and professionals representing the legal and social side of this issue say it is having
opposite effects to the laws intentions, ultimately steering some mothers away from
treatment and further harming the baby. My primary sources of information include
mothers who have given birth of NAS children, Evan Sexton of Renaissance Preferred
Prenatal Outcomes Network, Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Irwin, and Carla Saunders, a
nurse practitioner at East Tennessee Childrens Hospital for the Neonatal Intensive Care
Unit.
The purpose of my project is to provide online readers with information on the topic
through multimedia storytelling. My project is a website that will present information on
the legal, medical and social sides of NAS in East Tennessee and use national and state
data to compare the region to a national scale. I will be providing breadth to the NAS
story in order to give the reader multiple perspectives on the issues.
My project is designed using the website Atavist to develop a single, stand-alone,
static story. The project will be a feature story broken into three parts that focus on the
legal, medical and social sides of NAS in the East Tennessee region in particular.

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Throughout the feature, there will be graphics, video, photographs and charts to reinforce
the narrative and give readers another way to consume the story. It will be presented in a
way that compliments the text and is aesthetically pleasing.
Questions I address in my feature story include 1) what is NAS and how does it effect
the babies, 2) what are the treatment options available to mothers, 3) what are some
barriers to treatment and recovery, 4) what impact has the law had on their decisions to
find treatment and/or their decisions to not seek pre-natal care, 5) what impact has the
law had on healthcare and social work professionals working with NAS in the
community, 6) what are some criticisms and defenses for the law, 7) what are the longterm effects of NAS on the babies, and 8) once the babies are treated and placed into
custody, what happens with the mothers?
NAS is when the child is born drug-dependent from in utero exposure to drugs, either
prescribed or illegally obtained. The child will experience symptoms of withdrawal,
ranging from excessive and high-pitched crying to muscle spasms and tremors.
Symptoms of the child are dependent on the amount of the drug used by the mother and
for how long before she gave birth.
Addiction to opiates is particularly discerning in Tennessee. In response to those
concerns, in April 2014, Governor Bill Haslam signed SB 1391 into law. In the state of
Tennessee, a woman who gives birth to a child diagnosed with NAS can be charged with
misdemeanor assault. Tennessees law explicitly targets woman who used opiates while
pregnant, like heroin, methadone and codeine, among others. NAS has also been
diagnosed when mothers have taken diazepam, clonazepam (both are anti-anxiety
medications), and a wide range of pain relieving medications.

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This project holds importance because it is timely and relative to national news and is
easily localized to the East Tennessee region due to its staggering rates. On Oct. 21, 2015,
President Obama addressed the nation about the problem with prescription drug abuse
and heroin use. The White House referred to addiction as an epidemic. The Office of the
Press Secretary described the problem as an issue facing not just the individual addicts
and their families, but of grave concern to health care professionals, law enforcement and
community leaders.
The Literature I reviewed for this project says long-form storytelling and feature
writing in journalism has increased in popularity among digital readers. After attending a
Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, Alissa Quart wrote Lost Media, Found
Media: Snapshots from the future of writing (2008). Quart breaks down media into two
primary factions: Lost and Found, where Lost Media is the traditional, older practices of
reporting and storytelling for elite publications and Found Media is the new-age blog
camp, where many budding writers produce content for free and without consultation by
an editor first. Quart relays that though readers shift to Found Media more and more,
many blogs essentially use snip bits of content produced by Lost Media, creating a
landscape of derivative information, she said. Quart reiterates from guest speaker Paul
Steiger of ProPublica that the young journalists or commentators or information
organizers of Found Media have helped create an enormously robust opinion sphere but
have left a growing gap between that and the actual accumulation of information. It is
my goal to show a blended media approach to the Lost and Found Media camps. A
blogger can apply Lost Media practices to their new Found Media and not only earn

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credibility within the professional journalism community and provide original
information to readers.
Alexander Fedorov and Anastasia Levitskaya looked at why bloggers media criticism
is popular in their article Media Literacy Function in Critical Blogs (2015). They
suggested the following areas were popular for criticism: targeted orientation, duration,
interactiveness/multi-media mode, language, emotional charge, entertainment and
conformity. Under Language, they say popular media bloggers' texts are written in plain,
understandable for a wide audience, language; often without a deep analysis and logical
structure. Meanwhile professional media critics' texts are well structured, logical, and
often aimed at media competent readers who are aware of the social and cultural context
of the issue, understand media language, and specialized media terms, know the functions
of media agencies, manipulative effects, the creative work of media professionals
(Fedorov and Levitskaya, 2015). As for Duration, Fedorov and Levitskaya say that media
bloggers tend to keep text short while professional journalists maintain long-form
reporting.
Short-form storytelling and brief reports can lack clarity on the issue in that nuances
are lost to brevity. With short-form reporting, there is less ability to develop a character or
create emotion, invoke humanizing elements or include research. A blended media
approach of long-form storytelling with video, audio and images gives the reader the
opportunity to experience the story on multiple platforms and become more engaged with
the issue. There is limited space and time dedicated to providing full context surrounding
an issue, so while online bloggers may prefer short text, their ability to include
interactiveness through multi-media storytelling can act to hold readers attention.

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Over a seven-year period from Jan. 2000 to Oct. 2007, the New York Times published
a total of 1,355 video multimedia packages, 2,217 slideshow multimedia packages, 625
interactive multimedia packages and one with audio. Most of the multimedia packages,
62.7 percent, were for feature stories (Jacobson, 2010). Jacobsons study Emerging
Models of Multimedia Journalism: A Content Analysis of Multimedia Packages
Published on nytimes.com, points out that not all journalism online is synonymous with
multimedia. Multimedia must be a story constructed by more than one medium and
published on the web (Jacobson, 2010). She says, non-journalists have begun to
contribute postings to blogs sponsored by news organizations, often in conjunction with
hyper local journalism projects, and that it is a move away from centralized control
of information also supports the libertarian view of the role of the press in a democratic
society (Jacobson, 2010).
The New York Times Snow Fall set the stage for long-form storytelling. I used
research on feature and long-form story telling and professional articles written about
Snow Fall to gain a better understanding of what it means to create a multimedia story.
Snow Fall was published Dec. 20, 2012. Sports reporter John Branch wrote the story and
worked with a team of 16 to produce the multimedia story package. It utilizes 21st century
tools of journalism especially for a digital age audience. Snow Fall: The Avalanche at
Tunnel Creek, covers an isolated natural catastrophe; a period of three days saw 32 inches
of snow accumulate in Stevens Pass and ultimately take the lives of three skiers after an
avalanche in Washington state. Gil Asakawa with the Society of Professional Journalists
Media Committee said the multimedia feature raised the bar to a level only attainable by

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the Times. It sets the standard, but every newsrooms, no matter the size of staff or
budget, should aspire to the standard set by Snow Fall (Asakawa, 2013).
While Asakawa says, dont just rely on text to tell a story, Derek Thompson,
senior editor for The Atlantic, said text isnt broken. Although hailing Snow Fall as
creative genius and journalistic innovation worthy of its Pulitzer, he points out the
impracticality of applying Snow Falls multimedia approaches to just any story.
Thompson wrote, there is no feasible way to make six-month sixteen-person multimedia
projects the day-to-day future of journalism, nor is there a need to. In his article, Snow
Fall isnt the Future of Journalism (2012), Thompson said Snow Fall would not change
journalism, as movies did not change the landscape for novels. Thompson cites Pew
Research data indicating readers prefer print-like experiences compared to oversaturated
media with audio, video, and graphics because their primary reading platform has gone
mobile. Thompson does not question Branchs or the Times ingenuity with Snow Fall,
but rather critiques the sensationalism of its praise when applied to every day journalism.
Snow Fall not only integrated cutting-edge design in their multimedia package, but also
dedicated a research role to one of the staff members on the project. In a 2012 Q & A for
The New York Times, Branch said he was looking into the growing research on heuristics
and avalanches. In a study on human-interest framing and its indirect affects on policy
attitudes, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the authors
define a human-interest frame as one of the most commonly used generic news frames.
At the core of most definitions of human interest framing is that a broader issue is
explained by portraying one or more specific persons who are personally involved with
that issue (Bourkes, et al). Although the study focuses on personal exemplars journalists

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introduce to stories, it highlights one of Branchs underlying interests in expanding the
broader concept of heuristics in avalanches to a story with characters that can bring it to
life.
Mary Clare Fletcher with the American Journalism Review wrote, As a
Millennial who has watched the rapid shifts in the news industry unfold, longform
means more than just a lot of words to me. In her 2012 article on longform journalism,
Fletcher defines the style of writing as providing in-depth reporting that goes beyond the
everyday standard of production and/or narrative storytelling thats presented in an
appealing way, often with multimedia elements to enhance the piece (Fletcher, 2012).
Fletcher is responding to an article written by James Bennet for The Atlantic. Bennet
focused on the semantics of the term longform, stating the word deters readers because
long implies length. Fletcher interprets the long in longform as being related to the
length of time spent in producing the story as a whole. This includes time spent on
reporting, writing, editing and presenting it to readers. She argues that Bennet perpetuates
the negative connotation following the longform story when he suggests changing the
terminology. Bennet says, in the digital age, making a virtue of mere length sends the
wrong message to writers as well as readers. Bennet says good journalism does not have
to be mired. He is referring to a blend of old writing styles and new digital tools that
enhance the readers experience. He refers to Snow Fall as the most digitally ambitious
accomplishment in journalism (Bennet, 2013). In his article Against Long Form
Journalism, Bennet says because Snow Fall generated large amounts of readers in a
short amount of time (5.3 million page views within a week), Digital startups of that time
were hiring long-form editors and investing in long-form feature products because of the

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Snow Fall effect. Cynics would say that publishing a few big feature stories is a shortcut
to respectability, and theyd be correct. But realists, Im happy to say, would comment
further that such features work: They draw in a lot of readers (Bennet, 2013). It is not
the length of the story Bennet disagrees with but simply the term. He says longform
writing has always flourished in the magazine industry especially, and calling longform
denotes word count over quality of the story.
When readers started moving to the Internet, media analysts thought longform
journalism was in trouble, wrote Naomi sharp for the Communication Journal Review.
The popularity of longform, in fact, did the opposite. The appeal of longer, in depth
stories has seen a growing trend in readership and demand in media. Sharp cites a
partnership between The Atlantic and the website Longreads, as well as Buzzfeeds
particular investment in a longform editor. At a conference for the Columbia School of
Journalism, Sharp writes that although many people were embracing longer stories, as a
mass transition to web allows for nearly unlimited space, and once expensive design and
production tools are becoming cheaper and cheaper, Atavists chief technology officer
warned just because you can Snow Fall an article, doesnt mean you always should
(Sharp, 2013). The concern is that because these resources are readily available,
increasingly user-friendly and often times free, users of these tools will not always
differentiate between a need to have them for the story and a want to because its there,
causing it to become more of a distraction than a reinforcement.
In a Poytner interview with Snow Falls graphics director, Steve Duenes, Jeff
Sonderman writes The new Snow Fall project seems like a real step up not just in visual
design but in coherent storytelling. Duenes told Sonderman his goal with the graphics

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was to allow readers to read into, and then through multimedia, and then out of
multimedia. So it didnt feel like you were taking a detour, but the multimedia was part of
the one narrative flow (Sonderman, 2012). In a different article for Poytner, Roy Peter
Clark makes the argument that despite its visual appeal and creative ingenuity, Snow
Fall is many good things, but great storytelling is not one of them. I will argue that the
innovative visual elements that brought it fame detract from the power of the narrative
(Clark, 2014). Clark criticizes the visual elements for stepping on the narrative, as
opposed to complimenting it and claims the voice of the story and its vision are out of
sync with one another. He defines voice as the sum of all the choices made by the writer
that create the illusion that the writer is speaking off the page directly to the reader, and
vision as the quality created by the sum of all the choices made by the designer or artist,
the effect of which is a unified way of seeing, as if we were all looking through the same
lens.
The scope of different opinions towards the Snow Fall approach to storytelling is
wide and divisive across journalistic perspectives on multimedia and narrative
presentation. While multimedia aspects can enhance the readers experience in engaging
with the story, the written narrative and multimedia components should align and
compliment each other, as opposed to dominating the story or oversaturating it with
graphics. Pulitzer winner Tom Hallman advises that whether the story is presented for
print or web, we newspapers move to embrace the Internet . . . reporters are going to
have to rethink what elements make a strong story. The Times made the decision to
dedicate resources to transforming Branchs story idea into a compelling multimedia
project. I just write words, Branch said in the Q&A for The Times. The key was the

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cooperation of those involved.

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References

1. Asakawa, G. (2013). 'Snow Fall' set gold standard. Now what?. Quill, 101(2), 40.
2. Bennet, J. (2013). Against long-form journalism. The Atlantic.
3. Boukes, M., Boomgaarden, H. G., Moorman, M., & de Vreese, C. H. (2015).
Political news with a personal touch: How human interest framing indirectly
affects policy attitudes. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 92(1),
121-141. doi:10.1177/1077699014558554
4. Chasnoff, I. J., & Gardner, S. (2015). Neonatal abstinence syndrome: a policy
perspective. Journal Of Perinatology, 35(8), 539-541. doi:10.1038/jp.2015.53
5. Clark, R. Snow-blind: The challenge of voice and vision in multimedia
storytelling (2014). Retrieved from Poynter.org.
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9. Fischer, M. (2013). Longform: Means more than just a lot of words. American
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17. Sharp, N. (2013). The future of longform: A conference at the columbia


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