Inside Our Latest News App: How It Works and How We Worked Together to Build It

Click the image to view the application.

A key part of the editorial mission on the StateImpact project is to focus our stories on how state policy affects people’s lives. That’s true for for our digital posts and our radio pieces, and also for our interactive news applications.

In our latest news app, Dried Out, we visualized how a historic drought consumed Texas in 2011 and how the dry conditions compared to recent memory. But we paid as much attention to the impact of the drought, which was devastating, and on state policy choices that could mitigate future droughts, which might become more common and more severe.

We sought to tell a story, in short, not just to wow readers with beautiful visuals. (Though we hope to do that, too).

We contained the interactive to one largely static page, and the result is something approaching the vanishing “double truck” newspaper layouts that contain lots of graphics, images and narrative content. We broke the story into four buckets: the history, and the drought’s progression; the impact, and its devastation; the policy choices, and their limitations; and the Texans, who we hope will tell us their stories.

HISTORY

The interactive contains two key elements at the top of the page. The first is an animated map that progresses through more than 90 snapshots from the summer of 2010 to March 2012. It shows how the dry conditions consumed Texas, and how they’ve waned since. There’s also an interactive chart illustrating the surface area of the drought — by October 2011, nearly 90 percent of the state was blanketed by historically dry conditions — and how it compared to recent years. We also created a timeline slideshow so users could traces the progression of the drought with compelling images.

IMPACT

Those images show conditions that devastated the state’s agricultural economy and sparked wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and burned thousands of square miles. We detailed the toll with interactive charts and maps, and with summary statistics. We also married the data with our previous narrative content for readers who wanted to read personal stories about the impact.

POLICY

Many of the policy solutions center on the state’s water plan, which outlines predictions that Texas’ water demands will increase significantly. The plan has several solutions, most of them involving conservation. It also calls for the construction of new reservoirs and tapping of other waters sources. We sought to summarize these ideas for readers who wanted to learn more about the issue.

DISCUSSION

We’ve also invited our readers to tell us their stories in text, images or sound. We hope to receive enough responses to compile another story for air and online.

Unlike our previous apps, this time we asked for more direct input and time for a reporter on the ground in a state, in this case Terrence Henry, who is based at KUT News in Austin. He helped collect the data, and he is responsible for authoring all the explainer text on the page. He also sat in remotely to our daily “scrum” meetings in Washington as the DC-based team, including designer Danny DeBelius and developer Chris Amico, built the app. As an expert on the drought, Terrence guided our decisions.

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