The Atavist is a digital platform which publishes long-form multimedia storytelling. A few years ago, it published a detailed, 12,000-word report on the Mekong River massacre. The investigative report tells how more than a dozen Chinese sailors met their death. Jeff Howe, assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, was the article’s author. “The weirdness of the case was fascinating,” said Howe. “It’s an obvious whodunit where nothing’s as it seemed.”
He held his hour-long lecture in the Snell Library on the future of long-form journalism. Howe discussed his article, which he titles as ‘Drugs, Pirates, Murder’. His lecture included his love for magazine writing and the future this craft has. Howe has worked with Mother Jones, The Washington Post, and U.S. News & World Report, among others. “I always wanted to become a magazine writer,” said Howe. “I wasn’t good at anything else.”
He worked in The Atavist for almost two years before publishing this article. The article required him to travel to the Golden Triangle. It is a terrain-area which overlaps the mountains of three Southeastern Asian countries. As the Mekong massacre flew through this Golden Triangle of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, he had to investigate it.
“I went in like a vacuum cleaner and sucked up everything I could so I could get home as fast as I could,” Howe recalled. “I did everything I could to interview people who were doing everything they could to [keep away].” The facts of the murder were, as he found out, quite undisputed. However, the culprit, Naw Kham, might not have existed. There were also many problems in reporting this story. One of them is the use of three different interpreters.
Howe then shifted the topic to the future of long-form journalism, focusing particularly on parallax scrolling, which cleverly creates an illusion of immersion and depth. In the Q-and-A session, when asked about his writing process, he said, “I sit down, I’m depressed, I play videogames, and then I tell my wife I worked really hard. When I’m painted into a corner and my career is in danger of ending, I catch on fire and it starts pouring out.”