The Tampa Bay Times’ “Stand Your Ground” series offered another impressive interactive feature with its database of case files, which revealed that the Trayvon Martin case is only one among hundreds that have been affected by Florida’s controversial self-defense statute:





Users can sort cases by race, county, and gender; view a gallery of the accused in each case or the victim; and roll over each mug shot to see a detailed account of each case at the left side of the screen. And each mug links to a separate case file—the same files that provided most of the 12 links in the story I mentioned earlier.

The Post-Dispatch, to its credit, uses a similar feature to tell the stories of St. Louis-area soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the page architecture is a letdown. Reading the capsule bios of soldiers below the first few rows means scrolling down to a thumbnail picture, clicking on it, then scrolling back up to the top of the page for the info and links to related stories.

Of the three Midwestern papers singled out here, the Register stands out for its use of interactive graphics, with a clickable state map that allows users to see gun-permit statistics by county. We can only hope that features like this one point the way to more creative work from legacy news organizations in the region and beyond.

Of course, the ideal scenario—indeed, the inevitable one, if newspapers are going to survive—is that reporters and editors conceive and write all of their stories with the Web in mind. This could eventually mean, among other things, a reconsideration of conventional storytelling methods—perhaps a shift away from the AP-style newswriting voice altogether. In the meantime, the Web offers plenty of low-hanging fruit that newspapers can grab to bolster their reporting. Everyone in the newspaper business knows the difficulties presented by the Web. But too few are embracing its benefits.

 

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Deron Lee is CJR's correspondent for Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. A writer and copy editor who has spent seven years with the National Journal Group, he has also contributed to The Hotline and the Lawrence Journal-World. He lives in the Kansas City area. Follow him on Twitter at @deron_lee.