The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 27th

Students’ coal website earns national honor at SXSW festival

Coal is black.

But the UNC journalism students who produced “Coal: A Love Story” know that debates surrounding the energy source are full of gray areas.

The project is an interactive multimedia website that explores coal’s place in modern culture.

It is the third iteration of Powering a Nation, UNC’s contribution to the News21 project funded by the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

Last fall, the team submitted the website to the student category of the SXSW Interactive Awards.

SXSW, or South by Southwest, is a music, film and interactive conference held annually in Austin, Texas, that helped launch social networking websites Twitter and Foursquare.

On Tuesday, the site won its category and national recognition.

“We were so excited to win,” said Delphine Andrews, the project’s managing editor and marketing director. “It’s great to hear your work is actually appreciated by professionals.”

Laura Ruel, a UNC journalism professor and executive producer for the project, said the website’s goal is to humanize debates about coal as an energy source.

“It tries to tell stories about energy in a very personal way instead of a big-picture, official way,” she said.

Catherine Orr, editor-in-chief of the project, said energy issues are often overreported.

“It’s not usually something people feel they connect to,” she said.

Andrews said that most people today think of coal mining as a historical industry.

“People think of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression,” she said. “But it’s still happening. It’s such an integral part of everything we do.”

The website tells stories about people’s relationships to coal.

“There’s one story about a family where the daughter is competing to be West Virginia Coal Queen,” Ruel said.

“Her dad’s a coal miner, and he’s not trying to kill the environment — he’s just trying to put food on the table.”

Orr said she hopes the website shows the depth of coal culture.

“It shows why it is that you can’t just stop coal mining,” she said.

“You can’t just go in and tell people what they’re doing is wrong, because we’re using their coal.”

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