California Watch publishes multimedia investigation “Broken Shield”

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Carrie Ching, senior multimedia editor at California Watch, recently emailed me about their latest publication “Broken Shield,” which documents the unsolved death of an autistic patient at Fairview Developmental Center, a nursing home in Costa Mesa, CA. After watching the 11 minute video and perusing the wealth of supplemental content within the package, I am eager to hear your thoughts on it.

“We just launched a new investigation called “Broken Shield” that includes a multimedia feature that details a suspicious death at a state institution for the disabled—it’s a pretty compelling mystery story told in narrative form by the reporter, with layers of photos, video, documents, voicemail messages, and text. The multimedia feature, “Manner of Death: Undetermined,” is embeddable in an interactive player with links to documents, case evidence, and articles that provide more context for viewers. It’s pretty experimental as a piece of investigative journalism,” Carrie wrote.

I watched the entire video and really appreciated the exceptional use of multimedia content to visualize a past event, which is always hard. I was impressed by the detailed reporting and strong storytelling. I can’t imagine how many hours went into the reporting and production stages of this package and I applaud Carrie, her co-workers Ryan Gabrielson, Agustin Armendariz, Michael Corey, Ashley Alvarado, Sarah Springfield and everyone else involved in its production.

In light of always striving to improve, I wonder if it would have been even more effective not to follow a linear structure when editing this story. I say this because it took me a couple of minutes to get engrossed in the story, yet the details of the actual incident happened first before I could wrap my head around the implication of those actions. I think this is why many times storytellers start in the present, then backtrack to document past events, then jump back and forth between present and past to weave the story together. Do you think this might have held your attention better? Why or why not?

Also, I was a bit surprised to see the entire transcript below the video. This is still an uncommon tactic (from my perspective at least) and I wonder if it is utilized enough to validate the time it takes to transcribe.

Lastly, I appreciated the interactive graphic detailing abuse and unexplained injuries at five facilities in California. However, I was curious how the numbers compared to one another rather than simply aggregating them together in the “All Facilities” tab. Is 249 unexplained injuries a lot or a little in comparison to other facilities within California and other states? There is great potential to visualize multiple layers of data in this story to show significance. First, I wondered how Fairfield’s numbers compared to the other four highlighted facilities. Then, I would have loved to explore data from facilities in other areas of CA, perhaps in the north. Lastly, it would have driven the point home to enable the user to explore data at a state-wide level. Which state is the worst offender? If it’s California and you can prove that with data, then that should surely be a key take-away from this package!

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