Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Sometimes, you just have to "see" a story to get an idea of its scope. Merging video, text, photos and graphics gives such a richer story than just reading an article or watching a video. proved the power of this with its "13 Seconds in August" project looking at the I-35 collapse.

Now, the folks at have shown us -- in ways made possible only by using the power of the Web -- the terrible damage to a town destroyed by a ferocious tornado. The Des Moines team has assembled graphics, photos, data and stories into an amazingly interactive package that's worthy of emulation.

Charles Apple, at, quotes the Registor's data editor, James Wilkerson, about how the project came together:

For base data about the properties, I scraped the county assessor’s web site using a perl script and put the results in a spreadsheet. There were about a thousand records for Parkersburg.

One of our graphics people, Kelli Morris, walked the route of the storm, taking pictures and talking to survivors. She then used the property spreadsheet to link to “after” pictures and built a library of survivor stories from her data and stories we published. We later went through all of the properties for which Kelli had pictures and downloaded the “before” photo from the assessor’s web site.

A parcel map shapefile was not available in a timely and affordable manner. So another graphics person — Craig Johnson — built his by hand. He then built the Flash display using some dummy xml data. Putting Kelli’s spreadsheet in mySQL, I built an xml page in php, which was used to fuel the final display.

The end product is something I believe is truly unique and visually powerful. It also shows what can be accomplished by graphics folks who understand how to use data and think ahead about how to best weave it into their work.

Wonderful example of the power of merging data and multimedia.

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