Teaching Examples

Too much information, lacking order
August 29, 2006, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Many news organizations have recently published anniversary packages related to the hurricanes of last year, Katrina and Rita. I’ve been looking at them as they are posted on the various journalism blogs.

NY Times 2006 Katrina package
The good news is, we can see how much remains to be done. No one should think that the mess has been cleaned up. It has not. The government and the insurance companies should be held accountable. Lots of property and — more important — people are still in bad shape. Documenting this evidence is an admirable function of journalism.

The bad news is, many of these one-year-later packages prove difficult to comprehend. The story is so large, it seems the journalists struggled to create a usable system for organizing the information.

One of the better packages I have seen (and I have not looked at all of them) comes from The New York Times: For New Orleans, a Slow and Uneven Return. I had some trouble using it, but after about 20 minutes I did feel that I was getting a clearer idea of how New Orleans is faring today.

NY Times 2006 Katrina package
I liked the focus on specific locations and businesses (three tabbed sections segment the story into Businesses, Landmarks, Homes). I loved the video interviews with small business owners who are trying to recover and start over.

I really like the satellite maps of New Orleans as the location interface. However, this is also where I had some trouble navigating and controlling how I moved within the package. It’s a tradeoff between the map automatically moving to a new location and allowing me to move it at will. This map does allow both. But even so, sometimes I got lost and felt confused.

In addition to the plus and minus zoom controls, I think this map needs one of those locator frames that shows you where you are in the context of a larger map.

NY Times 2006 Katrina package
Although I liked the rollover effect that showed me “areas of significant flooding” with a blue transparent overlay, I didn’t like it flipping on and off every time I rolled over any part of the map. Eventually I figured out how to disable this feature, but it’s only possible when the map is zoomed all the way out.

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I also had trouble navigating this map, and occasionally, the info box would zoom out into an area of the map that was slightly outside my screen, so I had to close the info box, zoom the map out and then reopen the box.

Obviously a lot of thought and effort, but there are still some usability quirks.

Comment by Murley

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