How to Caucus

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Missouri held its 2012 Republican caucus Saturday. Do you know how it worked? I had NO clue. That is until I read this interactive graphic from one of the Missourian’s independent study graphics students, Yan Lu. Getting to the final product was a challenge, but I believe, as did other editors I talked to, that it turned out well. Missouri’s caucus was COMPLICATED. One St. Louis caucus got so crazy that they had to adjourn before anyone could vote. So how do you explain something super complicated? Keep it as SIMPLE and CLEAR as possible. That’s what I encouraged Yan to do as one of her editors, and she did a fantastic job.

Check out the graphic by clicking the image below:

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National election coverage – localized

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This semester, the graphics department at the Missourian is fortunate to have two independent study students working on coverage of the 2012 elections. One student is focusing on local elections and the other is focusing on the national election. One challenge of working at a local paper is to find a way to make national news relevant to a local audience. This was a challenge I faced when I reported from Washington, D.C. for the Chicago suburbs’ Daily Herald. This week at the Missourian, we ran a graphic from one of the students, Yan Lu, that did a fantastic job of bringing a local focus to the national election. Yan dug through a massive data set to produce an interactive Flash graphic analyzing campaign contributions to 2012 presidential candidates from Missouri residents, and then narrowing it down to Columbia residents. The comparison between the candidates says a lot about the different income groups supporting each candidate. It also clearly shows how the views of Columbians differ from the state of Missouri in general.

Here’s a picture of the graphic. Click on it to go to the Missourian website for the interactive version.

The Quad

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This week at the Missourian, we launched a project that has been in the works for over a semester – The Quad. During the fall ’11 semester, convergence students reported everything there is to know about MU’s Francis Quadrangle – the history of its surrounding buildings, the statues that adorn it, unique facts, interesting events that happened there, etc. Towards the second half of the semester, graphics was asked to create a map of the quad as a hub for all of this information. Here’s a look at the final product. Click on the image to see the full interactive version:

In the end, I think this project turned out great. The articles and videos are interesting and the user interface is both usable and appealing. I didn’t get deeply involved in this project until a couple days before it was set to launch, handling some last minute technical glitches and communication issues. Here’s what I learned:

Flash is tricky. The reason I got brought into this project was a technical glitch in the map. With just several days before the project was set to launch, I was tasked with fixing the glitch. The map was originally designed to show a photo of and text about each building and statue surrounding the quad when the user rolled their cursor over outlines of the buildings/statues. At the end of the text, there was a link to an associated story on another page within the site. The problem was, when the user moved their mouse to click on the link, the cursor left the building and, since the functionality of the map was design as a rollover, the picture, text and link would disappear, thus preventing the user from clicking the link. After searching and searching for a way to fix this, another member of the Missourian staff suggested that I turn the buildings into clickable buttons, rather than rollovers. That solved the problem. What I learned? Flash is tricky and glitchy. There’s a reason it’s on its way out.

Communication is key. The biggest problem with this project was a lack of communication. As someone who has been a part of the convergence program for about three years now, I have come to see that there is a significant communication/understanding gap between convergence students and the newsrooms. Convergence students are treated as outsiders in every newsroom I have worked in, which doesn’t help, but students can’t fully understand how a newsroom operates unless the spend a lot of time and immerse themselves in that newsroom. I’m in my second semester as a TA at the Missourian, and after practically living here for that amount of time, I have a very different understanding of how things work here than I did as a convergence reporter. This isn’t to say communication problems don’t arise within the Missourian newsroom: they do. But not as often as they do when working with an outside organization, like would be the situation in any newsroom or business.

So naturally, this disconnect caused some communication problems in the final phases of the Quad project. When I went to link the text blurbs in the map to associated stories, I found that not every building had an associated story, and that there were some stories associated with parts of the quad that we in graphics had not been told to make interactive. In the end, I had to do my own research, write my own text blurbs, and request new photos from the Missourian photo department. I learned a lot more about the quad because of it, which was interesting, but this problem could have been solved by closer communication.