Harsh Treatment: a Chicago Tribune investigative project


Harsh Treatment: “Residential treatment centers are supposed to provide a safe, healing environment for young state wards and disadvantaged children. But a Chicago Tribune investigation finds many are harmed instead.”

I worked on the Chicago Tribune’s Harsh Treatment project in 2014. To plan the social media strategy that would give credit to this years-long work, I met with reporters, editors, videographers, photographers, and graphic designers to learn what was being created and reported.

From there, I strategized the best way to post it to social media while taking analytics, audience, and specific platforms into consideration. I wrote the copy for social media posts, made an editorial calendar, and communicated with multiple departments to ensure accurate storytelling.

The day before the project was published, we previewed it on social media with a video 

After working with various teams and departments, I crafted the social media language for this large project.

This investigation was done well, and most importantly, it was full of stories that needed to be told.  I proudly promoted the project through my personal accounts.

For the graphic essays, I thought Tumblr would be the perfect platform to highlight the art and creative storytelling.

This issue received a lot of attention on city, state, and federal levels. State officials started to revamp Illinois’ child welfare system, including the closure of a Rock River, a problematic facility mentioned in the stories.

I made sure to post follow-ups and keep our readers updated.

live tweeting.

Social media is all about being social, and live tweeting is the ultimate way to join the conversation. I do this with local, national and international events by tweeting and retweeting in real time.

To capture these moments, I curate my live-tweeting spurts into Twitter Moments.

One of my most memorable live-tweeting events was the night Darren Wilson was not indicted for fatally shooting Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While documenting the protest through tweets, Vines, and photos, I walked about seven miles from the South Side of Chicago, down Lake Shore Drive, and into downtown.

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Chicago protests the Ferguson decision (with images, tweets) · wittenkitten

A protest against police violence turned into a march after Darren Wilson was not indicted in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, on Nov. 24, 2014. The protest started at the Chicago Police Headquarters and moved to downtown Chicago.

See more of my Twitter Moments.

Chicago Tribune social.

During my time at the Tribune, I was able to work on some pretty cool projects. Here are a few:



My first big assignment was creating a Tumblr for the Tribune. Since its beginning in June 2014, it’s been wildly successful. We gained more than 10,000 followers within the first few weeks. After one year, we had 30,000.



Another focus of mine during my start at the Tribune was Google+. My boss has a lot on his plate, and this platform was something I could easily take over and nurture. During my first six months on the job, we went from 106,870 followers to 611,222.


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Another fun task to work on was the Tribune’s Pinterest. Pinterest is one of my favorite social media outlets, so it was fun to build on what they already had. I added lots of new boards and incorporated Pinterest-friendly topics that I could pin straight from our website, like recipes, restaurants, fashion, local events and home decor.


How live video is useful for journalists.

Trends within social media are nothing new, and journalists usually wonder whether it’s worth it to jump on the bandwagon. A few months into 2015, live streaming became extremely popular with the help of Twitter. Now anyone with an iPhone can become a broadcast reporter.

A screenshot of a Periscope done from from the 22nd floor of the Chicago Tribune

Periscope is owned by Twitter and connects users with their followers. When you initiate a live broadcast, you title the video and can enable the text to be shared through Twitter with a link to your video. While you’re streaming (vertical is preferred), watchers can leave comments and hearts (likes) in real time. You can respond to questions and have direct interaction with your audience. When you’re finished recording, you can make the video available for replay. This is specific to Periscope. Viewers from all over the world can replay your video and continue to add hearts for 24 hours.

So what does this have to do with journalism? A lot. We are a visual society, and live streaming adds that extra layer of storytelling. With an app like Periscope, you can bring your audience with you wherever you go. It gives journalists another great way to report and interact. People are clearly using Periscope, and journalists should go where their audience is.

Michael Anthony Adams has worked as a breaking news reporter for The Indianapolis Star since Oct. 2013. He covers night breaking news with a focus on crime, violence and law enforcement. He primarily uses Periscope on his way to and during his time at crime scenes.

“As a breaking news reporter, Periscope has changed the way I unfold my stories to my audience by allowing me to relay information in realtime as I’m learning it,” Adams said. “While Vine and Twitter limit the amount you can share in each post, Periscope gives my viewers a unique look into my role as a journalist and a front seat to news as it happens.”

Adams answers viewer questions so his stories “become interactive” and his audience can “get the sense that they’re contributing to the report.”

Many overnight and crime reporters at the Chicago Tribune use Periscope in a similar way. Tony Briscoe, a breaking news reporter for the Tribune, used the live streaming app most recently at a police brutality protest in Chicago’s South Side.

“The protest was stemming from the aftermath of the things going on in Baltimore,” Briscoe said. “I was able to live stream it and actually talk with the people who were watching and answer their questions.”

Some journalists may run into access issues depending on their beat. For example, some professional sports organizations have restrictions on broadcasting. Chicago Tribune sports reporter Chris Kuc has used Periscope to show Chicago Blackhawks practices and warmups before games. He is currently taking a break from live streaming while the NHL makes guidelines about where and when people are allowed to record.

How should journalists get involved? “Just jump in and do it,” Chicago Tribune social media editor Scott Kleinberg said.

“I absolutely think you just have to try something and see what sticks,” Kleinberg said. “Everything you do – especially your first attempt – is not going to be amazing and Oscar-winning. I actually think that’s part of the charm. Show that you are human and willing to try. Ask readers/viewers what they want to see. Practice really does make perfect.”

Live streaming can be much more than a fad; it has great possibilities for journalists. It’s popular with crime and breaking news reporters as well as those on sports beats. Features reporters can use it to sample restaurants, watch parades, do cooking shows, showcase exhibits. Any event is great if it’s interactive and exciting. Journalists can even search trending topics and locations on Periscope.

“For it to to work beneficially for all, though, I think the journalist has to embrace the power of community in social media and realize that granting this level of access to a reader is part of the overall experience,” Kleinberg said. “That that experience doesn’t end with a story in the paper or posted on a website.”

Below is an example Periscope video. After the live broadcast, it was saved to the phone’s camera roll and then uploaded to YouTube. The saved videos don’t show the comments or hearts, but you can tell when the broadcaster responds to questions by the viewers.