A New Dawn -David Stephenson- Lexington Herald-Leader

From David Stephenson:


A New Dawn” was by far the longest amount of time I have spent working on a story. Assignments come and go, the pictures are often forgotten by the next day. But this time was different.

I knew that following Dawn Nicole Smith through the Fayette County Drug Court program could take more than a year to complete – that’s how long it takes most drug court participants to finish, if they finish at all. Reporter Mary Meehan and I got to know Dawn for over three-and-a-half years.

Her story was far more complicated than I ever imagined.  It tested me in ways I never predicted. There were occasional access issues. There were ethical dilemmas. There were scheduling problems (how do I do my job on a regular basis and still find the time to spend with Dawn? How many times do I have to apologize to my wife and family for being with Dawn on our anniversary or a birthday?) 

And I’ll admit I had issues with motivation. I found it very difficult to make myself go back to see Dawn again and again and again, particularly when most of the time she was surrounded in chaos or crisis. 

Finally, three and-a-half years after we met Dawn in the spring of 2004, we published her story on 23 pages in the newspaper and with a six-part multimedia presentation online.

When we began Dawn’s story, we weren’t doing a whole lot of multimedia. But using a minidisc recorder I had purchased in 2000, I recorded what I could knowing that by the time we finished we might know what to do with it. 

I never listened to any of the audio until it came time to edit. As it turns out, the audio pretty much dictated the structure of the online piece. And fortunately, that five-chapter structure also closely followed the stories as they rolled out in print.

I chose to use Soundslides for the presentation for a number of reasons: It provided a large degree of user functionality – for such a heavy piece, I wanted viewers to have flexibility and options which you don’t really get with a video player. Soundslides also allowed me to have captions which I felt might be important to some viewers. Soundslides, being a Flash-based program, was light-weight and wouldn’t bog down a system like a 3 or 4 minute video could.

I did have to teach myself some Flash so I could build the chaptered interface, but I knew that would be a valuable skill to have for the future.

Almost a year later, I don’t think I would do anything differently with the online presentation. Of course, I do wish Dawn’s story would have turned out better. But sadly her story is a common one.

Posted by: B Foster


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