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Open Earth: The beginning of global GeoJournalism

London, Brussels, December 15th, 2015 (InterNews/SIGNIS). Environmental journalists face a unique challenge: covering local stories of environmental change requires an understanding of global processes.

To address this challenge, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) is launching OpenEarth.net to provide the first global GeoJournalism interface focused on surfacing patterns uncovered by local journalists around the world.

Over the past three years, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network has been building a series of GeoJournalism websites focused on understanding, visualizing, and communicating the relationships between humans and their environment in some of the world’s most critical eco-regions. To date, there are 9 regional GeoJournalism sites focused on the three largest rainforests in the world, watersheds with headwaters in the Tibet Plateau, the temperate woodlands of the Gran Chaco, and the savannahs of Southern Africa.

The initial prototype of Open Earth, built in partnership with Stamen Design, was first demonstrated publicly at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, France on December 6 during the COP21 Climate Summit. The site now hosts links to more than 6,000 stories from around the world that are searchable according to region and topic.

The launch featured a panel discussion with editors from 5 regional GeoJournalism websites: Gustavo Faleiros of InfoAmazonia, David Akana of InfoCongo, Fiona McLeod of Oxpeckers, Ramesh Bhushal of The Third Pole, and Clara Rondonuwu of Ekuatorial. Each editor showcased the different ways in which GeoJournalism serves as a globally relevant tool for regional storytelling about challenging environmental issues.

The creation of Open Earth brings the content of these sites together for the purpose of understanding how deeply interconnected environmental issues manifest internationally.

“There is no one story that can capture the reality of the environmental transformation currently happening throughout our planet,” said EJN Program Officer Willie Shubert at the launch of Open Earth. “This effort is an example of how the media community is coming together to tell these vital stories and demonstrate that local journalism has a key role to play in identifying and responding to environmental changes that can lead to a cascading crisis.”

Over the next year, EJN plans to augment the site with additional stories and visualized datasets that continue to explore and highlight the environmental changes sweeping our globe.

Open Earth Platform

With the goal of lowering technical barriers for journalists seeking to integrate data visualization into their coverage, the launch of Open Earth coincides with the creation of a multi-site platform, similar to wordpress.com for scaling to new regions.

GeoJournalism sites share a custom WordPress theme, JEO, developed by Miguel Peixe of InfoAmazonia to support the integration of media articles and mapping. Journalists can now set up similar sites based on the formats and themes created by sibling sites without the need for extensive customization.

Content hosted on the sites are made available via a built-in content API that can be accessed and filtered to match custom criteria. This feature is used by Open Earth to stream stories to a global scale and is already being utilized by Global Forest Watch to display feeds of stories filtered for forest subjects.

Next Steps: An Open Earth Initiative

Behind each GeoJournalism site is a team of editors sourcing, tagging, and translating articles from a network of contributors. Supporting the people that are building local capacity to integrate these skills into their reporting is at the core of our purpose and continuing to provide opportunities at the local level is the foundation that makes technological development possible.

As part of the Open Earth initiative we envision a series of in-person training sessions providing methods and tools for multimedia reporting with scientific data, like satellite imagery and sensors feeds. In partnership with Google and the World Resources Institute we have development methodologies and materials to reach out our community with a practical curriculum. We intend, along with these important partners, to increase training opportunities to a broader array of locations most stressed by environmental change.

Online, we have created Geojournalism.org as a place to provide tutorials on how to create data-driven environmental stories as well foster a community for journalists, developers, and designers who share their knowledge and engage with fellow GeoJournalists. It contains a growing set of materials focused on providing the skills and tools needed to incorporate GeoJournalism into reporting that creates context for complex environmental issues.

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