In our current clickbait culture, long-form investigative journalism faces an uphill battle. That’s why the Center for Investigative Reporting launched Reveal, a multimedia storytelling platform that combines groundbreaking reporting, strategic partnerships, and varying formats— including video — to get their stories in front of new audiences.
And the shift in strategy is working. Take for example their Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast, “Reveal,” which has grown to include short- and long-form video content in the last two years. Since then, the program has earned an Academy Award nomination and multiple Emmys — not to mention a Vimeo Staff Pick.
We reached out to Amanda Pike, Director of the TV and documentary department (and executive producer of films and series at Reveal) to learn why video is important to their strategy, and how the team is measuring success.
Tell us about Reveal.
Our mission is to engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling that sparks action, improves lives, and protects our democracy. We focus on long-term, deep-dive investigations that take six months to a year or more. We are multi-platform, so in addition to our video work, we produce audio stories for our weekly investigative radio show and podcast “Reveal” — which is on almost 500 NPR stations across the country — as well as digital stories that we publish along with partners like the Associated Press.
What does your team look like?
Our TV and documentary team consists of four full-time staff members. Everyone wears a lot of different hats as producers, reporters, shooters, and editors. We have two basic strands of content: quicker-turn news pieces, short online documentaries and animations; and longer-form feature documentaries and series.
How important is video for telling the stories you want to tell?
As the head of the video department, I would say video is incredibly important in spreading our message. Since most of our major investigations are produced for radio, text, and video, you quickly see how each incarnation is different and brings something special to the mix. We try to make sure that each version tells a distinct piece of the story and is additive, not repetitive. Video is an incredibly visceral medium, offering a compelling, character-driven way to present our investigative findings. It also helps produce impact: stakeholders and government officials can show our work at community screenings and panels in order to drive change.
What are your goals for the videos you create?
Ultimately, we want to raise awareness and spark change. We’re journalists, not advocates, so we want to get our stories into the hands of stakeholders who can make those changes. To that end, we often partner with other outlets and news organizations. In the last six months, our work has appeared on PBS NewsHour, the Atlantic, the Guardian, PBS World channel, and Telemundo digital. Our video work is sometimes featured on the iTunes channel for Reveal’s podcast as well.
In addition to more traditional news outlets, the engagement team also works to get our stories to the communities most affected by what we cover. So, for instance, we recently produced an investigation on the exploitation of live-in caregivers for PBS NewsHour. Since a large percentage of the caregivers in California are from the Philippines, we also worked with The Filipino Channel to get the story to a highly relevant audience. With PBS News Hour we reached influencers who can spark changes in policy, while with The Filipino Channel we were able to speak directly to an affected community.
Take us behind the scenes of your Emmy-nominated Vimeo Staff Pick, “The Office of Missing Children.”
“The Office of Missing Children” came together as part of our coverage around immigration and Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. When the policy was announced last year, we wanted to find out what was happening to children after they were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. After doing a story about how immigrant children were being drugged without consent at one treatment facility, Reveal received a tip that children were being held in an office building in Phoenix without a yard, showers, or child care licenses. Reveal immigration reporter Aura Bogado investigated the tip and was able to track down a boy who was held in that facility, as well as the mother he had been separated from. Aura did several interviews with them and had the boy draw pictures of his experiences to find out where he was taken and what happened.
How did the film come together?
Reveal has a history of doing graphic novels and animations based on our investigations. This seemed like a perfect story to animate since the boy’s journey through the immigration system was not something we could capture on camera. Director Michael Schiller took all of the audio and put together a tight, six-minute narrative of their journey. The video uses field audio of Aura’s interviews with the family so they could tell their story in their own words. Michael worked with Brian Britigan, who did the hand-drawn illustrations, and Zachary Medow, who did the motion graphics. The animations were based on the boy’s own drawings, as well as our investigation; you can see some of them at the end of the video. The music for the film was composed by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, Reveal’s incredible sound design team, and the theme song, “Cities on Fire” was written by Jon Fine. The whole process took about three months and was done on a shoestring budget, funded in part by a grant from the Fledgling Foundation.
How do you measure success for your videos?
As a nonprofit, sometimes it feels like just getting the funding to realize an idea and get something made is a success; as an organization, Reveal primarily measures success by the impact of our work. In addition to getting the word out about our stories, we hope that our work will generate positive change and hold the perpetrators of wrongdoing accountable for their actions. Reveal actually created an “impact tracker” to help us monitor our impact — to see how our stories are getting out into the world and the effects they have.
Why do you use Vimeo?
Vimeo is a great platform because our work is immediately available to a community of filmmakers and ardent film watchers. Getting a Staff Pick was incredibly helpful in getting our work to a larger audience that might never have seen it otherwise.