10 with Todd Melby

By Leadingham, Scott | The Quill, May 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

10 with Todd Melby


Leadingham, Scott, The Quill


Growing up in the small, western North Dakota town of Hettinger, Todd Melby didn't know his upbringing would prepare him for one of the biggest professional projects of his life. Granted, it took him a few decades to realize that, but with age comes wisdom. Melby, who has long lived and worked in the Minneapolis area, went back to his old western stomping grounds to report on the region's oil boom. But he didn't just report; he's produced an immersive, multimedia, engaging storytelling project called "Black Gold Boom,"which recently won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for best Specialized Journalism Site. With the help of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Localore project, he spent a year living back in his native state, meeting and telling the stories of people who came from all over the U.S. to find their next (and hopefully steady) job. Melby is an experienced freelancer, having worked in various forms of commercial and public media for most of his professional journalism life.

Give us the "Black Gold BoonTelevator pitch.

The story of the oil boom told through the voice of the people who live and work there.

Why this project, why now?

I proposed this because I knew the oil boom was happening, and it was big news in North Dakota. It was changing the kinds of towns I grew up in. I knew it was a big story in North Dakota, and newsworthy. It was starting to percolate up nationally.

What are you doing with the project that other media outlets aren't?

I'm from there, and I lived there. I made frequent trips back home (to Minnesota), but once you live there you get to experience that a lot. I really tried to tell the story of the people. I think there is this perception that the oil boom is like the wild west or the new gold rush, but I also thought there is an analogy to "The Grapes of Wrath." People are showing up to get jobs. Lots of people are willing to sleep in their car or live in a trailer without water to better their lives.

And how did it come about? It seems like there are a lot of backers and moving parts.

I had a budget, and it was paid for by Localore, and it was a big experiment by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. My approach to that was to hire really good photographers and videographers. We got these stunning photos of drilling rigs and pumpers and trucks going down gravel roads. That was just the beginning. At the beginning of the project, I didn't know we would create that. Zeega created basically a digital player that creates kind of a guided tour through the oil patch. The idea was just to experiment with different story forms.

How do you convince people that this is worth their time, because if you really want to engage and go deep with it, it's not like a five-minute stop to read an article and move on.

That's a good question, I don't know. What do you think I should say to them? That's not my forte. I just like to make cool stuff. I guess I'd say, well, it's really hard to describe since it's so new.

6 Is there an end goal in mind - how do you know when you've achieved what you set out to achieve, or is that fluid?

I think there are different kinds of reporting projects and approaches to reporting. …

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