Propublica and New Media

Posted: February 2, 2011 by Elizabeth Sullivan in #3 Propublica

The Investigation:

The Real “CSI”: How America’s Patchwork System of Death Investigations Puts the Living at Risk

It’s an interesting topic off the top. I’ve been known to consume crime thrillers now and again. I’ve kind of guessed that there’s no way that what they tell me on CSI is completely the truth, and I like how in this investigation looks into why that’s the case. It’s one of those questions you always ask yourself, but never really feel like you’d ever actually get into the ‘meat’ of an answer unless they listed it somewhere on Wikipedia or someone like Frontline did a documentary on it.

There are also some features to the page that’s currently online, that I specifically like. The style is very classic. It utilizes white space in a way that simplifies the message into what’s important — the story. The way the actual page is divided is interesting. The center margins where the body of the story is located are quite narrow, so it looks like the story goes on forever and ever, when in actuality it’s concise, and it reads easily. There is a definite maximization of space at the top of the story, and it’s refreshing to see that the additional information on the web page doesn’t last as you start scrolling your way though the story. The additional material on the outside margins, is also interesting, if your interested in that sort of thing… i.e. twitter, morgues in your neighborhood; and a direct link to their partners on the investigation, Frontline – and the documentary that was comprised by the media outlet.

The web page is fairly intuitive, and I think they handle a lot of investigations with the same sort of goals in mind. The web pages here usually address questions like: What is the problem or controversy surrounding an issue? What are we understanding, or figuring out when we talk to the people involved in this issue? What do these examples provide, what do people want to know? Is there any way that this could be a misrepresentation of the facts? From those questions they’ve created links to what they believe people will be interested in viewing, a major investigative piece of journalism that is possibly centered around or paired with a media element. They’ve also set up a clean commenting system at the bottom of the story, while giving you the ability to share the story with others, or bookmark it if you want to see the story as it’s updated if it gets updated.

I like how at the top of the website there is a donations link. It adds a feeing of humanity to the page. There is the idea that this kind of information doesn’t come cheap, but there is also the implication that if you like this kind of media you can choose to help that media by donating to the website. It’s also a style thing. The donation bar makes it’s presence known without intruding your experience. You get to enjoy the information and judge whether or not the content is worthy of your donation, which I think is genius.

In this investigation I also enjoy how they’ve handled the content and interviews. You are not told to judge the people you see in the Frontline documentary, you are told who they are and they or their actions are allowed to speak for themselves, which is also refreshing because you catch a glimpse of what real people are like.

I’m having this weird inner dialogue where I’m asking myself where they came up with the idea for the story, and I’m having trouble. I’d like to know how, possibly because of journalistic intrigue, the story idea was thought up but it was probably so simple a question that it didn’t need to be mentioned.

Both PBS and Propublica released their stories at the same time in this case. I think that’s also illustrates the camaraderie that can be achieved by setting aside the principal that one source has to scoop the other. It’s a testament to why institutions like Frontline can last so long, and still feel relevant. As for Propublica I think it’s a bold step in a different user generated, user oriented service. It looks like their audience can consume media and get involved too.

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