Telling the most important story in Oakland

In my morning run around all our local news sites, I spotted this epic Not Just A Number multimedia project at, the online home of the Oakland Tribune and other ANG newspapers.*

Not your average homicide map

This is WAY more than your average homicide map. Whoever put this together (I’m working on finding out who to credit) went to great deal of effort to tell what I’ll call the most important story in Oakland using multimedia, interactivity, and data.


  • An artistic Flash intro that hooks into my emotions.
  • A map that gives me real information when I click on a number, sometimes even popping up a multimedia element, like an audio interview with the family of a murder victim.Audio interview with a murder victim’s mother
  • Video that appears to have been contributed by community groups — proving that you don’t need a squadron of shooters if what you’re doing matters to the people in your community — these projects exist — you can spend your resources on building relationships and partner with your readers to get their message out.
    Video gathered from community groups
  • Plenty of places for readers to talk back: I see spots to submit events for a mapped calendar, submit stories of their own, and (!!!) a blog just for this story, where readers can share their personal stories in comment threads.

Questions (for now and later):

  • How was this promoted in print?
  • What’s the traffic on this going to be like vs. the participation? What could be done to make it even easier for readers to participate?
  • Are the people who this story matters the most to going to participate and offer feedback on their own, or do third-party community groups carry the weight?
  • How long did all this take to develop?
  • How will this be promoted online, for how long, how prominently?
  • Will the map be updated with 2007 numbers as the stories happen, or will readers have to wait until 2008 to see the totals?
  • Who at the Tribune is going to do the daily work of maintenance and moderation on the interactive pieces of the project?

*(Disclaimer: My paycheck is stamped with the same automatic signature the folks at the Tribune find on theirs.)

9 thoughts on “Telling the most important story in Oakland”

  1. As far as how it was promoted in print, it was the dominant “story” on the Sunday Trib cover, taking up most, if not all, of the area above the fold. Below the fold was a reader note explaining the project.

    Community participation is the big open question in my mind.


  2. After the intro, if you look on the bottom left hand side of the page, in tiny type, you’ll see Copyright 49th Parallel Productions. Some kind of outside design house? Still impressive as all hell, I’m just wondering how much of the paper’s resources went into this.


  3. Nice catch Matt — 49th Parallel is Sean Connelly and Katy Newton. I’ve gotta check my work e-mail in the morning for a better explanation, but Sean works at the Tribune as a photog, or web producer, or both. I’ll try and get some combination of people to answer some questions in an e-mail interview this week.


  4. That’s a really amazing way to deliver the information. It is eerily similar to the information in this SFGate package about Oakland homicides, originally published in December. But I think the insidebayarea one is more aesthetically pleasing, and the chance for reader interaction is above and beyond. Still … Did they swipe the idea?


  5. Damn, somebody should get you a business card that says “Angela Grant, Skeptic.”

    The SFGate piece also starts with the numbers, but it’s just dots on a map, a print graphic dumped online.

    The dots don’t tell stories, and the whole point of the Oakland piece is to get behind the numbers and tell the stories of the people affected by murder.

    That said, there hasn’t been anything original about a homicide map since Chicago Crime, but there doesn’t have to be.

    It’s a great way to illustrate the numbers and inform people. Every paper in a city with, well, enough homicides to make it logical should have one.


  6. I want to say thanks to all of you and Ryan for bringing attention to our project Not Just A Number. This project was born from a lot of hard work by my partner (Katy Newton) and I that began back in August of 2006. This project also would not of been what it is without the tiresome work of a few key individuals at the Oakland Tribune.

    We wanted to create a place for the community and the Tribune to come together and talk about this issue of violence. A lot of this is what I would call a big experiment for us. We have never tried something like this before and will of course make some mistakes along the way.

    We wanted to point out some facts but at the same time we wanted to show the stories of change and positivity from the community, that is the reason for the community voices page. What’s going on in Oakland is complex and deep rooted. There are no simple solutions but I believe there is a great history in Oakland that will help power the way to change.

    I agree with Ryan that were not doing anything original but were just doing something and that makes me happy. Also seeing the support we’re getting from the community makes me feel like it is sorta working. We listened to the community as we were building this project and made many changes to it along the way to reflect their needs & wants.

    Quick side note for those of you interested in data visualization and it actually applies to Oakland. check out:
    Way over my head but a fascinating read. This guys works for Stamen Design(, which specializes in data visualization. So my point is: One – cool stuff & two- nothing original done by us.

    Lastly, I just want to touch briefly on Angela’s comment. When we saw the Chronicles piece launch in Dec. my jaw dropped. I thought wow that’s just like ours. But in the end I believe this to be a case of working in such a small journalism community that being the Bay Area. There is going to be overlap. I stand behind our work and vision and will take any questions regarding our integrity. And in the end, the more people doing stories on this topic the better.

    We did this for the community and I think the results reflect it.

    Thanks for your time —


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