McCullom Lake Brain Cancer Exposé

The “Coincidence or Cluster?” project compromises the Northwest Herald’s online coverage of the the McCullom Lake brain cancer lawsuits in December 2007. As the viewer navigates through the each piece of the “6 part series”, she is presented with arguments on both sides of the McCullom Lake contaminated air & groundwater debate.

This is the opening page the viewer sees when navigating to the multimedia project by the Northwest Herald. Like all 5 pages that follow, it has a distinctive “print” feel.

The strongest scene-setting element of this package also becomes a hindrance to it on the opening page. The video that literally greets the viewer (it’s on autoplay) is a black-and-white documentary-style clip of Joanne, a McCullom lake resident whose husband died of a brain tumor. Her story, along with the video and images placed with it, make this a compelling and sobering piece. However, nothing justifies this video being 5 minutes or longer (I don’t know the actual time of the video because there was no time stamp). Although the video has a navigation bar, it doesn’t actually navigate through the video, instead just jumping back to the beginning no matter if you press what looks like the backward or forward button. This is extremely frustrating to the viewer.

A close-up of the troublesome navigation table. Above it on the page is a video box and to the left is a screenshot and link to an interactive map, as well as a link that invites you to “continue reading”, which leads to more text with no images.




If the viewer can get through the long video (which isn’t too hard
seeing as the content is rather compelling), the next element we are led to click on is “The Plume” tab (not very descriptive– I am not sure where it will take me).

The result is jarring. After seeing victims speaking about the horrible cancer inflicting pain upon their families, I am confronted with a video “about Aaron Freiwald”, the plaintiffs’ attorney. He chats about how he first went to school for journalism and how his legal career got started. Mood ruined. The table below allows me to navigate to 9 other videos (nice), although at first I am confused because the links are not at the arrows, but rather on the text.

The interesting map that I click on to the left of the table spans the well site where the chemicals presumably came from, as well as the neighborhood below. It is a useful tool in that it gives the viewer a perspective on how close the victims lived to one another and where the contaminants allegedly are coming from. One downfall was that the box that explained what the color-coded dots meant and what residents lived where on the map would not go away. When moused over, it became solid, when not touched it was translucent, but still present, obscuring full view of the map.

I give a lot of credit to this project for incorporating so many well-made videos into the site. I really never felt like there was too much text and not enough visuals. Even when I would navitage to the “read more” sections, the text never overwhelmed me and was kept brief. I also was impressed by the fact that this was a six-part series originally published in the paper (the .pdf documents of these are available under one of the tabs). I am sure it took a lot of effort on the part of the newspaper staff to get enough video and multimedia to create a six-part series for the web that was not just a repetition of information covered in the print version (I believe they succeeded). However, I feel that it is unfortunate that the staff constrained themselves to a “six-part series” format. There was no reason to have only six pages that looked very much like newspaper layout (with videos where the photos would traditionally be). Thinking outside the box could have made this project feel less unwieldy.

I also liked how many of the court papers submitted before trial were included in case the viewer wanted to peruse them. It gave the multimedia project a very professional feel– making it more investigative than just a feature. The stories compelled me to want to know what was going on with the case now, or if it had already ended, how victims’ families had found closure. However, when I clicked on the “update” link, I was brought to a blank page. Disappointed, I had to navigate away from the site to google to find out what became of the case.

original post at Mizzou Multimedia Design


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