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Investigation Explores Uncharted Territory Using Cutting-Edge Technology

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Deciding on the desired end product of data visualisations before gathering the data will speed up processes. Image by Fiona Macleod. South Africa, 2017.

Deciding on the desired end product of data visualisations before gathering the data will speed up processes. Image by Fiona Macleod. South Africa, 2017.

Massingir, a rural area on the border between South Africa’s world-renowned Kruger National Park and Mozambique, is a journalistic challenge. It’s remote, increasingly militarized and can be dangerous—as journalists on assignment for Der Spiegel discovered when they were kidnapped by poachers in 2015.

"Kruger’s contested borderlands" is a major new transnational multimedia investigation exposing a well-intentioned anti-poaching initiative that has degenerated into a ruthless land grab by politicians and business elite.

Our cutting-edge multimedia investigation into land grabs in the borderlands started with a traditional journalism team comprised of a local investigative reporter—with years of experience and good contacts in the area— a photographer and a videographer.

The visual brief included drone footage of the borderlands, in order to provide a birdseye view of areas where there are no roads, access is limited, wild animals may roam and the bush is often impenetrable.

The aerial photos and video clips provided new perspectives and insights into vast tracts of uncharted land that can be hard to visualize from the ground and describe in words.

Further from-above insights were provided by satellite imagery, which helped us to geo-locate the new private game reserves along the border in an interactive graphic.

Using Google Earth satellite images analyzed by Radiant.Earth and designed with JuxtaposeJS, we were also able to create a then-and-now slide interactive showing places where community settlements have been moved over the years to make way for the game reserves.

Data research and analysis by Landmatrix helped to finetune our reportage and to build on a tool called Dominion that we started developing at the Global Editors Network Lab in Cape Town in November 2017.

All these elements were combined into a Shorthand package titled “Kruger’s contested borderlands.” It’s a great package that shines new light on an under-reported zone.

Here are some lessons we learned in the process:

  • There is a difference between a drone journalist and a drone operator. The latter requires substantially greater briefing and editing than the former.
  • Transnational investigations may require translations. Don’t assume the journalist can provide these, you may need to hire a professional translator.
  • Deciding on the desired end product of data visualisations before gathering the data will speed up processes.
  • Shorthand is great for packaging multimedia stories, but traditional third-party publishers can be reluctant to buy into the packaging.