The New York Times has set the bar for digital storytelling with their brilliant, award-winning Snow Fall piece. (At OPB we certainly took some inspiration from their work for our excellent THIN ICE multi-platform project.)
Now they’ve gone and ‘snow-falled’ a fascinating political drama taking place in a remote area of the South China Sea. Here’s how the story opens:
Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.
The story of isolated Filipino crewmen on a dilapidated military vessel weaves in and out of the wider context of a geopolitical dance. It’s a visually rich longread – including photos, video, maps – worth taking the 20 or so minutes to dive into.
And if you haven’t checked out those other two I mentioned above, do it. Consider all this screen time a respectable media binge.