A fail in online journalism, or the start of something good?

My dear, sweet colleague Liz Brixey e-mailed out a pretty cool link to to the McClatchy Web site this morning. It’s a map that breaks down when unemployment is expected to return to pre-recession levels. Included is a database that lists the pre-recession unemployment rate, the current unemployment rate, and the projected return to the good old days.

It’s interesting eye candy, but in its current state, doesn’t exactly pack a lot of context. SCREENSHOTS!

Good use of Google Maps, but it leaves me wondering why.

Good use of Google Maps, but it leaves me wondering why.

The database page. Not much here yet.

The database page. Not much here yet.

So, why is Columbia in better shape than the rest of Missouri? That’s a good question, and that’s almost where I condemned this as a “fail.”

But then I remembered something important: I was viewing this on a computer, not on newsprint. Silly me!

This is just the beginning for this database, or at least it should be. Tony Pugh’s piece helps lend context to the national view, but what about the local view? This is where the news really is.

What I hope McClatchy plans to do is add something that explains why things are the way they are. Maybe that’s more economic data. More likely, it’s a short analysis and an annotated fact box. Or a Flash presentation, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that you have an infrastructure in place that can grow, expand and change over time. Databases are kind of like plants — you have to give them a little love to keep them alive. And keep promoting them; otherwise, what’s the point?

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