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Student Project Creates Awareness About Illegal Logging Through Interactive Website

Jun 24, 2013 By Crissy Campbell

Last semester, MDM students teamed up with journalism students at UBC's Graduate School of Journalism to create awareness of the effects of illegal logging around the world.

Using the research, and reporting materials created by journalism students at UBC, MDM students Yvonne Hu, Stefan Finseth, Neshat Piroozan, Alana Thorburn – Watt, Patrick Truman and Melissa Wong developed an interactive website to teach people about the negative effects of our consumer demand for wood. The website, CUT, was launched last week.

This evolving multimedia site includes videos, articles and photos based on reporting and footage collected by students in UBC’s International Reporting Program. Users are taken inside a modern loft and can click on different objects in the room to learn about what the product is made of and where the materials come from.

The goal of the project is to make the public aware of illegal global logging practices and the role that consumer demand for cheap wood products, such as toilet paper and hardware flooring, plays. From the website:

Timber smuggling is one of the biggest black markets in the world. Every year thousands of hectares of forests are secretly being cut down. Once sawn into boards and mixed with legally harvested timber, the origins are practically untraceable for people on the enforcement side. The timber is then shipped to countries where it is made into wood products destined for the global marketplace, in the form of furniture, paper, packaging, flooring and even music instruments. Interpol estimates that up to 30% of the wood products we buy are made from illegal wood.

When asked about the experience, Project Manager Patrick Truman said, “We wanted to build something that was engaging and easily accessible across multiple platforms. We had to find a way to make it look really cool and responsive without using HTML 5 (since we didn’t have the expertise). It was a real exercise in problem solving.”

The challenge for the students was that they had to design this content-heavy site without access to the actual content.

“We were working with placeholder content during the entire project and had to imagine what it would look like with all of the stories and videos in place. It made it a very consultant process – The School of Journalism had a much better understanding of the content and we had to build something around content that wasn’t finished yet,” says Truman.

 When asked what he wants people to do once they come to the site, Truman replied, “As much as I’d like to say that the website is about the website we built, it’s not. It’s about the content and people engaging with the content. At the end of the day we had to make sure The School of Journalism’s reporting and research shone through. The website is just a package for the content.”

Speaking to Alana Thorburn-Watt, the Artist on the project, she agreed. “That’s what I learned, too. As an artist, you’re used to have the freedom to create what you want and experiment. But the attention had to be about the videos and other content. As an artist I wasn’t used that it and it was an important lesson to learn.”

The students on the team were drawn to the project because of its focus on social issues. Thorburn-Watt said, “I believe projects like this are super important for the MDM program because they show that the students are passionate about changing the world for the better. We can tackle issues such as illegal logging by raising general awareness through a powerful tool that we have – visual communication. It feels empowering to work on such an important project that is creating real social change.”

Watch a Behind the Scenes Video of the Project:

Explore the site here: CUT