Sudan in Focus – Web Special Report

Sudan in Focus screenshot

Screenshot of the Sudan in Focus webpage

The Sudan In Focus (formerly Sudan Elections in Focus, soon-to-be South Sudan in Focus) webpage was originally developed for Sudan’s national elections in April 2010, and has gone through a lot of iterations as the situation in Sudan has shifted and the project has developed from special coverage to a spin off radio program.

When Sudan held its presidential elections, I was working closely with the Africa team and was tapped to put together the web special report.  My goal was to provide a one-stop shop where people could not only find all the information they were looking for about the Sudanese elections, but would also see the information presented in a way that made sense and helped tell the overarching story of what was going on.

The original page design presented our coverage, broken down by topics of interest, and profiles of the major candidates.  It also included a feed of news stories from other relevant news sites and a blogroll with links to news sources and blogs about Sudan.  I focused on sources either located in Sudan or based in Sudan – value-added over the standard array of Western news sources and NGO blogs.

As the elections got closer I altered the page layout to focus on breaking news at the top. I also included specific links to blog posts that helped add depth to the topics we were covering – opinions and analysis from the region that showed how the elections were being perceived on the ground.

In my opinion, this page came closer to the ideal of what a special report page or topic page should be than anything we’ve done before (although could’ve been much closer still). There’s nothing informative about a list of stories on a page – the point of a topic page shouldn’t just be to collect everything you’ve ever published. It has to add context and depth and help readers navigate the overarching narrative of the story (again, the wiki-news model of presentation).

Sudan page as it originally appeared

Sudan page as it originally appeared

Days before the election

Days before the election

Close up view of one content section

Close up view of one content section

View of the page immediately after the election

View of the page immediately after the election

An expanded section of the post-election version of the page

An expanded section of the post-election version of the page

The problem is that producing this page on a daily basis was labor-intensive.  It all had to be hand-coded, and so everything had to be updated manually.  I imagine that’s the allure of the New York Times/WaPo/Google (now open-source) “living stories” idea, which accomplishes a lot of this automatically.  But, again, the more you automate with lists of stories, the more you lose the benefit of an editorial eye shaping the story and giving it context.

After the election, the Sudan project transitioned into its own radio program, so the page needed to transition into something more sustainable in the long term. It currently runs a number of feeds of material from our website and outside websites to provide the latest news on what’s going on in Sudan. It also incorporates information about the radio program and highlights features from the program (like the Storytelling in Sudan project).

In preparation for the upcoming independence of South Sudan, we’ll probably tweak it again and add some special independence-related features as well.

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