Posts Tagged ‘Elaine McMillion’

‘Hollow’ and Thunderdome

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yesterday really was an emotional rollercoaster at the Charleston Daily Mail as our staff reacted to the fates of friends.

We were thrilled to see our former colleague and continuing collaborator Elaine McMillion (now Sheldon) among the winners of the 73rd annual Peabody Awards for her production of ‘Hollow,’ which focuses on life in southern West Virginia.

Elaine McMillion

Elaine McMillion

As we have often said, because we like to claim her, Elaine was twice an intern at the Charleston Daily Mail. She continues to sometimes collaborate with our staff, as she did for coverage of the contamination of the Elk River and the Kanawha Valley’s water supply.

The Peabody is big-time.

As Elaine told the Daily Mail’s Zack Harold, she submitted “Hollow” to the Peabody Awards in January, “thinking my chances were pretty low because most of the people that win are with networks or affiliated with some corporation.

“I never thought we’d be in the same list as ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘House of Cards.’”

Congratulations Elaine!

Meanwhile, we were sorry to get news the same day that some of our friends from Digital First Media are losing their jobs.

Steve Buttry visits the Charleston Daily Mail for a seminar with newsroom staff

Steve Buttry visits the Charleston Daily Mail for a seminar with newsroom staff

DFM, which manages (but does not own), the Charleston Daily Mail, shut down its New York-based centralized newsgathering hub with the audacious name “Thunderdome.”

The move meant that some of our friends, including DFM’s editor-in-chief Jim Brady, Thunderdome managing editor Mandy Jenkins and digital transformation editor Steve Buttry — all recent visitors to the Daily Mail newsroom — will be looking for other jobs.

Their visits and their outlook have influenced much of what we do at the Daily Mail, including an emphasis on community involvement and a belief in serving web and mobile readers as well as traditional newspaper readers.

Digital First CEO John Paton wrote in his blog that the Thunderdome shutdown means a turnabout to focus on local. Although the Daily Mail is affiliated with Digital First Media, I wouldn’t expect big changes here. The company manages our newsroom but all other functions — like advertising and circulation — are self-contained within Charleston Newspapers. And our focus is local anyway. Always has been.

Nevertheless, we’ll miss our Thunderdome friends, who are always welcome to come visit us anyway. Good luck in the future, guys.



Charleston Daily Mail recognized for water crisis coverage

Friday, March 7, 2014

I’ve been proud of the Charleston Daily Mail”s coverage of the water contamination that hit our community Jan. 9.

Our main goal during the situation was to inform and help our community. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to see our staff be recognized for its work.

Digital First Media recognized the Daily Mail with a monthly “DFMie” for the region that includes its publications in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Here is our entry, followed by some very nice comments by judges:

1A Evening 01-10-2014.qxd (Page A1)On Jan. 9, residents of Charleston started reporting an unusual smell in the air. Some compared it to licorice, others to Robitussin. By that evening, it was clear the situation was much more serious. The chemical, which was being stored in tanks along the Elk River, had entered the intake valve at West Virginia American Water and contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people across nine counties.

The Daily Mail staff immediately started a live blog using CoverItLive to give residents immediate updates. The live blog ran for a week as residents were urged to not consume their water, not to bathe and not to use it for everyday activities such as washing dishes or laundry. The live blog got 44,831 views and 7,439 clicks.
One more important number wasn’t a web stat: The Daily Mail staff, along with the Charleston Newspapers circulation department and Trane Heating and Cooling, distributed 900 cases of water, a day after the crisis hit, to community members who had none.  We also used our blogs, our Twitter and our Facebook to let people know other places they could find bottled water being distributed.
Other highlights of our early coverage included two explanatory videos about how the crisis happened. The first, by Elaine McMillion and Dave Boucher, got 1,281 views in our NDN player and 4,208 on YouTube. A second by McMillion and Marcus Constantino got 582 views in NDN and 357 on YouTube.
Since that first day, in a water crisis that has lasted more than a month, the Daily Mail staff has written more than 100 accounts of the crisis — which has taken a few more turns, including a lack of knowledge about the effects of the chemical, several revisions about the amount of chemical that actually leaked, a late warning for pregnant women not to use the water even after the initial ban was lifted, the later revelation that yet another chemical leaked and the ongoing odor that remains in people’s water lines. Eventually the story became distrust.

1A Evening 01-15-2014.qxd (Page A1)By Jan. 15, the Daily Mail was asking residents how long it would be until they would willingly drink their tap water again — a question accompanied by an iconic front page and a story and video by Marcus Constantino.
On Jan. 22, when a little more time had passed, the Daily Mail staff sampled bottled water to pass recommendations with a lighter touch to a community that was now committed to the bottled version for the long haul. People seemed to appreciate the Life page levity.
The response to our coverage, in terms of readership and numbers, has been impressive. But what the stats really mean is we do and have done a good job of informing our community by whatever means we can. Residents seem to appreciate our effort and our commitment to this story.

The Digital First Media awards are judged by the staffs of other newsrooms. The judges had kind words about the Daily Mail’s coverage:

The Charleston Daily Mail deftly managed the Elk River contamination, providing all-angles coverage without diluting content. The show-stealer is the artistry of videographer Elaine McMillion in “West Virginia Water Woes, 36 Hour Recap,” which is also a testament to the explanatory reporting skills of David Boucher. This video is not just informative – it’s striking. I was further impressed by the work of reporters Marcus Constantino and Matt Murphy; a hot shower well-earned by all.

Another judge:

It excelled all judging criteria areas, especially the digital skills and community engagement.  The live blog was timely and provided an immediate forum for compelling and relevant information that the community needed to know and engaged in.  The explanatory videos were well made and good supplements to the written stories.  They took extra steps in community service with their bottled water distribution and their lighter bottled water review.  Overall,  it was a really nice package of stories using the online medium.

And another:

The Charleston Daily Mail staff put together a comprehensive and engaging coverage of the West Virginia water contamination crisis. This was journalism at its finest, getting in front of the story and keeping the public informed. Their use of social media was also a perfect example of today’s journalism without sacrificing the foundation and basis of newspaper reporting that people come to expect from us. Their use of social media put the story in a new light and helped reach as many people as possible in an evolving and vital story. It was simply not enough to run it in print. The live blog, the videos, the how-to videos all were exactly what the public needed from their local community newspaper organization. I personally liked the humanitarian element of passing out water bottles and assuaging community fears during a tumultuous time. I personally would have loved to been on the “bottle water tasting committee.” All in all, it all came together for this staff. The people certainly lost faith in the water company and their government, but they certainly gained trust in their local newspaper. Kudos.

‘Hollow’ documentary provides reflections on home

Friday, September 20, 2013

One recent day, when I had a little free time, I drove over to Riverside High School to see my friend Elaine McMillion lead a presentation of her film project, “Hollow: An Interactive Documentary.

Elaine McMillion

Elaine McMillion

I have known Elaine a long time now. She was twice a reporting intern for the Daily Mail, including an extended internship after she graduated from WVU in 2009.

We would have been delighted to keep her, but Elaine was destined to leave. She went to Emerson University in Boston to study documentary filmmaking, and “Hollow” was the result.

Maybe you have read about “Hollow” already. The name has two meanings. It refers to the valley between two mountains — and to the empty space that’s left when something that was there isn’t any more.

“Hollow” is the story of McDowell County, told by its residents, about what was there and what is and isn’t there now.

One of Elaine’s great gifts has always been her ability to relate to people and to elicit their trust. She appreciates what’s interesting about people, and that comes out in the stories in “Hollow.”

The stories McDowell County residents tell in “Hollow” are of loss and hope.

There is sorrow over lost population and lost opportunities.

But there’s also a love of community and love of the land.

These are stories of people who have stayed – despite the dismal economy, despite the drug problems, despite the departures of their friends and families.

They cling to their community, try to make the best of what remains and hope for better days.

Accompanying Elaine to her presentations of “Hollow” at Kanawha County libraries was Alan Johnston, a musician, photographer and lifelong McDowell County resident.

He said something of Welch that was echoed by almost everybody featured in the project.

“It’s almost like a ghost town. That doesn’t make me love it any less,” Johnston said. “My heart is in McDowell County.”

Many West Virginians — even those who have left — feel that way about their home.

Unless you are from a growing area like the Eastern Panhandle, or Putnam County, or maybe Morgantown, there is a good chance your community isn’t what it used to be.

The viewing of “Hollow” that I attended included a class of seniors at Riverside. At one point, Elaine asked how many plan to stay in West Virginia.

With students, it’s hard to tell if they’re being shy or quietly thinking over what you’ve said. Anyway, only a few cautiously raised their hands. One boy offered that he would probably end up working in the coal mines.

Elaine provided her own point of view: “I left, and now I’m trying to figure out how to make it back.”

If you are interested in the story of West Virginians, told by themselves, you don’t have to go anywhere besides a computer in your own home.

Just install Google Chrome – the web browser that works best with the way “Hollow” was set up – and go to

Once you’re there, you scroll through multi-layered pictures. As the images move, hotspots appear with links to videos and other features.

There are 30 stories that can be watched in any order, all according to your own preference.

If you watch, you might recognize the reflection of your own home, your own people, your own life.