Building a Platform for a Global Audience
Designing The Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund Website
In Peru, a team of local forest rangers track tree poachers by foot through dense underbrush.
In Ecuador, indigenous Waorani women successfully interrupted an oil extraction campaign destroying a vibrant ecosystem and creating conditions that led to violence in their communities.
In Senegal, an ecofeminist movement of more than 500 rural women’s associations see a sustainable, women-led alternative to extractive industrial-scale farming practices.
In Indonesia, locals fight to stop the last forest on the island of Pagai Utara from being cut down to fund the oil plant industry.
These recent stories are only a fraction of the independent journalism being funded by the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund. Instituted at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, the Rainforest Journalism Fund seeks to support local reporting about the issues facing rainforests and those who call them home, and bring that reporting to audiences who might not otherwise encounter it.
In 2020, with the Rainforest Journalism Fund two years old and continuing to expand its scope, The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting partnered with Threespot to reimagine the Fund’s online presence — the first step in a larger redesign effort where we would update the Pulitzer Center’s entire visual design system and website. Because of rainforests’ centrality to such topline issues as climate change, the legacy of imperialism and the rise of far-right governments globally, Pulitzer’s rainforest reporting hub was the perfect place to pilot user experience changes and visual design choices that would be applied to the larger brand in the full site redesign.
The design and UX team made choices that would reinforce the seriousness and rigor of the local journalism being funded by this program. One subtle way of accomplishing this was in the display of the stories: we highlighted the logos of local news outlets so that they appeared at the same level of visual hierarchy — and importance — as their more well-funded counterparts based in the Global North. Furthermore, every author of every story gets their own image associated with their byline, as well as their own bio page that links off to other stories they’ve written. In this way, an independent journalist working in the Congo and writing for local outlets is shown right alongside employees of the Washington Post and Time, their work treated with the same level of respect.
Another important consideration was language. Because the stories are created by local journalists, we needed to build a robust, multi-aspect system to let users read as much of the content as possible in their own language. At the most basic level, users are able to select the language of the site interface and “evergreen content” (think mission statement, about us page etc.) from the main navigation. However, the system has a few important additions that enhance the experience further.
First, we made sure to attach a language taxonomy to story content. This allowed us to clearly display the language of a given story on components like these story cards (in the language selected in the main navigation), as well as letting users filter stories by language.
Second, since translating every story into five different languages isn’t possible given the client’s current staffing, every story page features a button to translate the content on the page using Google Translate. Clicking the button by default translates the page into the language the user had previously selected in the main navigation. This allows an Indonesian-speaking user to read an English news story in their native language with a single click. It also accounts for scenarios like a native Tamil speaker living in Indonesia wanting to quickly view the page in the language they’re more comfortable reading.
To show the breadth of the work of the Rainforest Journalism Fund, we created a zoomable map displaying the location of every story posted to the site. This map accomplishes a few things. First, it reminds viewers of the sheer size of the area we’re talking about when we talk about “rainforests” — not a network of small preserves but a lush band that encircles the whole globe — clearly essential to the health of the planet at large. Secondly, it gives users an interactive, unexpected, and engaging means to explore and find older stories.
The fund’s stated mission is “To raise awareness of the urgent issues facing the world’s tropical rainforests by supporting and building capacity for quality, independent journalism” and Threespot was proud to partner with the Pulitzer Center to craft a website that helped in this goal.