Milk and Blood: The Making of South Sudan

Photograph taken by Trevor Snapp in South Sudan.

Photograph taken by Trevor Snapp in South Sudan.

Photograph taken by Trevor Snapp in South Sudan.

Through TC Labs, the consulting wing of Triple Canopy, I am acting as editorial director of Milk and Blood: The Making of South Sudan. This digital book for the iPad chronicles the birth of South Sudan through essayistic reporting, photography, video, and audio. The book is a collaboration with photographer Trevor Snapp, reporter Alan Boswell, and Triple Canopy’s creative director Caleb Waldorf, and is funded in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Find a longer explanation of the book, which is scheduled to be published in stages beginning in spring 2013, below.


Last July, South Sudan became the world’s youngest country. It was a remarkable victory for a dogged rebel group that had fought one of the longest, bloodiest wars in recent times. South Sudanese streets erupted as locals celebrated. Foreigners were also celebrating: activists, diplomats, aid workers, consultants, and private contractors—the nation-builders of the West who had midwifed this new country.

One year later, the hard-won peace in South Sudan hardly feels different from war. Shortly after independence it became clear that South Sudan may be a nation on the world map, in reality it has no unifying identity, weak leadership, rampant corruption, and violent divisions, all the symptoms of a failed state. Now South Sudan is once again battling the north; the old conflicts—especially over oil—have returned, and thousands are being killed and displaced as a result.

Yet there are great dangers looming for both South Sudan and it’s new neighbor Sudan. Unresolved and disputed issues on the border have already lead to sustained conflicts and peace in the future looks just as likely as war. The peace agreement between the North and the South was supposed to be comprehensive, but it wasn’t and it now appears that millions of people who fought with the South, but were left in the North (in Abyei, Nuba mountains and Blue Nile) were sacrificed to gain the South’s freedom. And the price may be a return to war.

Beyond the headlines you have read about this region, there is a story far more complex and compelling than what we imagined when we first arrived in Juba three years ago. The struggle for autonomy, peace, and power in South Sudan exemplifies the way in which ethnic tensions, emergent democratic movements, the legacy of colonialism, and the international state-building industry conspire to produce a nation. This is the kind of story that can only be understood through exhaustive reporting, and demands a new type of space in which to speak to readers. We’ve published our stories in TimeNewsweek, and with McClatchy Newspapers, among other venues. But now we want to tell the whole story, in rich, deeply reported multimedia narratives, freed from the constraints of column inches, advertising dollars—and even pages.

In the coming year we will be reporting regularly from South Sudan while launching Milk and Blood, an innovative digital book for the iPad that chronicles the birth of the country and asks whether the West’s interventions have brought a resolution any closer or just added to the complexity of the conflict. Readers will be able to follow our progress on the website devoted to the project; we’ll solicit feedback and use it to shape the book. Together, we’ll bring you South Sudan as we have found it: at times beautiful and revolting, inspiring and terrifying, impossible to capture in one thousand words or a single photograph.

We believe that people care about complex stories and want to have an immersive experience of them; it’s our job as photographers, writers, editors, and designers to find gripping and creative ways for that to happen. That’s why we’re working with TC Labs, the design and development wing of the acclaimed online magazine and publisher Triple Canopy, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. And that’s why we plan to share with the lessons we learn with other journalists. Milk and Blood will also be the foundation of a new publishing imprint that will act as a resource and an advocate for a slower, deeper form of digital journalism that brings together the best reporters, photographers, videographers, technologists, and editors.