Climate Connections connects

In the car, I’m a total National Public Radio junkie.

Despite pretty regular on-air prodding, though, it’s rare that I visit the NPR website. When I do, it’s usually for a quick check on something like an author name or a movie title that I couldn’t write down while I was driving.

This week, though, I bounced online after one of the Morning Edition segments of Climate Connections – a year-long series NPR is producing in partnership with National Geographic – and found a whole lot more than just some pictures to go along with the broadcast stories.

The project itself is ambitious enough from a storytelling standpoint, with reporters and producers scattered worldwide to tie their dispatches in with the overall theme of “How we are shaping climate. How climate is shaping us.” But it’s the execution beyond the reach of the radio waves and on the website that absolutely floored me: This is an encompassing online journalism exercise the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before.

All the stories are available in audio form, which isn’t surprising, of course. And there are accompanying photos to many of the stories. But then there are cartoons explaining the chemical properties of carbon bonds, links directly to current National Geographic magazine pieces which have a part in the series, and an interactive global map with all the stories to date flagged according to subject and location. (It even includes teases to upcoming stories and when they’re expected to air.)

One of the things I’ve always thought both NPR and National Geographic do well is putting a community or individual face on huge issues, and that’s another thing I like about this series. It would have been easy to turn the whole thing into a global warming awareness party, but in addition to the big picture, we get stories simply about people and their environments, like a family living completely off-the-grid in Hawaii or the slowly-disappearing customs of afternoon nap time in the Mediterranean, a custom shaped by the need to work in the cooler morning and evening hours.

The Climate Connection’s site isn’t perfect. Things can get a little cluttered, layout-wise, and that interactive map, while it runs smoothly, isn’t the most intuitive piece of work. It seems like it would allow you to click all the way through to the stories flagged, but it doesn’t, so if you happen to see something nifty there, you have to kind of backtrack and muddle around to find it.

Still, considering the scope of what NPR and National Geographic are trying to tackle, both in terms of subject matter and the way they’re telling the story, it’s a standout effort.

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