By Alvin Chang, data visualization
It took weeks to clean up homicide data for our Bowdoin-Geneva project. I was ready to map it and move on. But I was unsure about one of the data point, so I looked it up in the Globe archives. I found this 1993 story about Jose Lizardo’s murder:
They followed the well-trod path of generations of immigrants before them, three brothers, journeying to Boston from afar to open a corner variety store in a time-tested pursuit of the American dream.
But on Saturday night, two of them came face to face with a nation’s nightmare: a handgun-toting thief who walked into their Dorchester shop, demanded all their cash and fired shots that within hours would end one of their lives.
For me, that story — which was written by our new boss, Brian McGrory — turned a dot on the map into a person with family, friends and a life narrative. It reminded me that, too often, we forget what the dots on our maps represent. That realization helped me transform a conventional crime map into this interactive.
It’s not always easy to mix data and narrative, but there are three things that made this possible in the newsroom.
1. Resources: As a reporter, one of my biggest challenges was introducing contextual metrics into my stories; as a data journalist, one of my biggest challenges has been humanizing the numbers.
Thankfully, newspapers archives are full of stories that humanize the world. We often forget about these resources because so much of our job is about getting new things. But one of the biggest breakthroughs in this project was finding the incredible breadth of archived material that can give life to our storytelling.
2. Willingness to do great journalism: At this point, we had to go into the archives, find these stories and re-publish them to BostonGlobe.com. It was a monumental task — something I could never have done alone. But to my delight, everyone I approached understood the importance of humanizing this data. Head librarian Lisa Tuite searched and compiled the stories; the wonderful Jeff Fish spent time putting the stories on BostonGlobe.com. At least three others collaborated on this project.
3. Easy presentation: To display these stories, we took advantage of our responsive website. We embedded stories from our own site, and because it adjusts to the width of your screen, it took little effort to make them presentable. It’s the Boston Globe, inside the Boston Globe!
The blending of big data and compelling narrative often requires collaboration, but the newsroom is a perfect petri dish for these two data types to interact. The resources are available, the people are willing and it brings a whole new dimension to our readers. It turns isolated stories into actionable trends; it turns dots on a map into people in our world.