Project description

We sought to inform readers on the unfolding environmental crisis on the U.S. – Mexico Border by inventing a new story form, modeled after social media ‘stories’ which allow the user to proceed without interaction, but pause if they wish to linger. The package is vast, and allows a ‘choose your own adventure’ progression through the many visual elements. The idea was to respect readers’ time, and provide varied coverage that would surround the story from all angles, and allow unique viewing experiences. In addition to the main infographics, stories, and 360s, there are dozens of data visualizations.

Project description and credits:

The recent publication of Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border by The Desert Sun was an inspirational display of dedication and teamwork by all involved.

Ian James picked up the trail in 2016 while doing some initial reporting on the New River, which flows from Mexicali into California. Greg Burton saw potential for a story and soon Ian was joined by Zoë Meyers, and other Desert Sun journalists including Rosalie Murphy, Omar Ornelas, Jay Calderon, and Richard Lui. They spent months going door-to-door in neighborhoods flanked by a putrid river and smokestacks belching toxic fumes. Ian and Zoë stuck with the story for years, learning intimate stories, and collecting revelatory data.

Later, USA Today Graphics and the Storytelling team got involved and began to help shape the visual presentation of this impressive work. Teaming up with Josh Susong, Shaun McKinnon, and Manny Lozano of The Arizona Republic, we sought to expose as much of the important reporting as possible while breaking the experience into segments that respected readers’ time. The execution of this concept was spearheaded by Chris Amico, and supported by many including Josh Miller, Ryan Marx, Mike Varano, Craig Johnson, and Stan Wilson.

Karl Gelles dove deep into satellite imagery, while Mitchell Thorson and Pam Larson reported, analyzed data, and created visualizations. Ramon Padilla lent his impressive visual skills to four separate explanatory graphics including interactives and a motion graphic which neatly summed up the issues at hand. Pim Linders brought this vision to life, and Veronica Bravo provided art direction in partnership with Merry Eccles. Frank Pompa, Alex Gonzales, Trish Reinhold and Take Uda produced many graphics and data visualizations. Jim Sergent, and George Petras provided critical research and edits. All of this was stewarded by the steadfast Annette Meade.

What makes this project innovative?

The choose your own adventure approach, respecting users’ time, new story form based on Instagram stories.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Drove increased recirculation within project and to our publications. Excellent time on page.

Source and methodology

We used the following sources to create a database and graphics rig capable of producing all visualizations: World Health Organization, California Air Resources Board, IVAN Air Monitoring,California Environmental Health Tracking Program, Imperial County Air Pollution Control District, Baja California Environmental Protection Department (SPA), Directory of the Baja California Maquiladora Industry Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), Mexico’s National Population Council (CONAPO) and Desert Sun reporting. Photos by Zoë Meyers/The Desert Sun. The work in volved extensive collecton of data, on the ground reporting, analysis, and visualization.

Technologies Used

R Studio, python notebooks. Custom story form, ArchieML workflow.

Project members

See description.



Additional links


Click Follow to keep up with the evolution of this project:
you will receive a notification anytime the project leader updates the project page.