The Times Team Visually Explains Chicago's Climate Problem

Time initiate explains who we are and what we do, and provides behind-the-scenes information on how our journalism comes together. In ...


Time initiate explains who we are and what we do, and provides behind-the-scenes information on how our journalism comes together.

In Chicago, a climatic showdown unfolds and the city’s natural feature, Lake Michigan, is caught in the middle. Fluctuations in evaporation and precipitation cause large fluctuations in lake water levels that could eventually become serious problems for the metropolitan area’s 9.5 million people.

In recent months, Midwest-based writer Dan Egan has spoken to Chicagoans facing the aftermath of the Crash Lake, while photographer Lyndon French ventured into the stormwater tunnel. and the city’s reservoir system and captured footage of the city’s skyline and architecture from a helicopter. Them and a team of graphic editors, designers and editors brought the project to life this month.

In a recent conversation, Jesse Pesta, deputy editor of the Climate office, and Claire O’Neill, visual editor of the office, explained how the project unfolded, the challenges of photographing visually abstract concepts and what ‘they hope people get it out.

How did you find this story?

JESSE PESTA The writer, Dan Egan, is a rock star in Great Lakes journalism. He is based in the Midwest, worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for many years, and wrote the book “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes”. Hannah Fairfield, editor of The Climate Times, and I struck up a conversation with him last year, and he brought up the idea of ​​taking a close look at Chicago. It fits perfectly with the kind of climate reporting we’re trying to do – telling a hugely important story in a surprising way.

Did you know right away that you wanted to go all out on the visuals, or did you make that decision after seeing his report?

PESTA We knew this from the start of the project. It had a story and a universality, and we knew the best way to put it would be visually.

What was the most difficult part of the project?

CLAIRE O’NEILL Because it spans a century, the hardest thing was cutting down on the visuals – there was so much to work on.

Where did you start

O’NEILL The first step was to create a Google Doc with all the visual possibilities that could accompany what Dan had written. Then it was a matter of deciding which visuals worked best with the text. When can a visual convey something better or in a more transparent or natural way, and when is it better to just write with words? Multimedia editor Anjali Singhvi has put together a large collection of other visuals – flyovers produced in Google Earth Studio – as well as other graphics with precipitation levels and evaporation rates.

How did you think about the challenge of photographing something without obvious visuals?

O’NEILL We had Lyndon’s incredible photograph of today’s Chicago as a starting point. With a lot of climate stories, what you’re trying to show is either invisible or what you want to explain happened in the past, like how Chicago was built. How do you represent things that are visually abstract or that cannot be photographed at the moment? The Anjali flyovers were great for capturing the city’s skyline and architecture, and we also had those videos that showed waves crashing into the Chicago shore. And thanks to the images from Google Earth, we showed a time frame of the disappearance of the shore.

The visuals were ambitious, but the backbone of the story was the reporting.

PESTA It took Dan months to relate and write this story, because it’s really something like four or five stories in one. The story is about Chicago, but it is also the story of the country where the city would later rise, dating back half a millennium. It is the story of how science affects the Great Lakes region. It is a reconstruction of a surreal day at the locks of the river where everything went wrong. It is the story of individuals who find themselves by the lake and are battered by mad storms.

How did you make sure your story wasn’t too technical for those new to climatology?

PESTA We are trying to make all of our climate stories universal. We don’t necessarily mean “Here’s a story about the climate”, but “Here’s a story about human ambition or human weaknesses or the pride or positive attitude that people have in trying to build a city against the winds. and tides. “Universal human themes are what make a story like this successful.

What feedback have you received since the story was published?

PESTA I have heard from a good number of friends who were born and raised in Chicago, who have said that they did not realize some of these aspects of the city’s history and the risk it faces. A number of people have said to me, “My joke has always been that at least I can go back to Chicago; sea ​​level rise will not get me there! They hadn’t realized how risky Chicago is in its own way.

What do you want people to think about?

PESTA None of us can escape the consequences of climate change. We are all at risk in various ways, wherever we are.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Times Team Visually Explains Chicago's Climate Problem
The Times Team Visually Explains Chicago's Climate Problem
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