Joel Stonington '98: Original reporting
by Lornet Turnbull
Stonington is a San Francisco-based documentary producer at AJ+, an online news channel owned by Al Jazeera Media Network. AJ+ produces video and media directly to social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. A writer, videographer, and photographer, he started out as a reporter before taking up long-form documentary-making on social issues. joelstonington.com
As a documentary producer at AJ+, Stonington’s work on important social issues is disseminated widely across social media. A six-part series on guns that he produced last year, for example, took a close, neutral look at a fiercely polarizing issue where there seldom appears any middle ground.
Another, recently released, examines the multifaceted intrusion of technology into our lives, including how it exacerbates inequities.
Stonington worked at small papers and magazines, then at the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, before accepting a fellowship in Berlin, where he stayed four years. He returned to the U.S. with a new passion: making his own documentaries.
In Europe, he walked the tracks alongside Syrian refugees, documenting how they dodged police cars and helicopters to sneak into the European Union just ahead of the closing of Hungary’s border. He reported on a movement of young neo-Nazis called Nipsters, who are embracing aspects of hippie culture in an effort to go mainstream.
AJ+, Stonington says, is a platform that gives a voice to those diverse and independent viewpoints that often lack one. It allows him to do the work he loves. And in today’s fraught climate, “we’ve all felt that what we do here is even more important.”
But these kinds of jobs are few — and becoming fewer. And as journalism has contracted, they are often the most expensive for news organizations to support.
The problem is made worse by the fickle nature of social media, he says. Even before Facebook established new algorithms to favor social feeds over published content, AJ+ and other organizations have been “trying to figure out how to operate on their own platforms or with less reliance on social media,” Stonington says. “Distrust of social media has been brewing for a while.”
Lornet Turnbull is a Seattle-based freelance writer and regional anchor for The Washington Post. She’s a former reporter for The Seattle Times and a writer and editor for YES! Magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.