Think like a museum director

Gazette photo
You can’t visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa without learning at least a little about the unbelievable flooding that occurred there last year. If you hang out with folks who work at the newspaper like I did, you learn a lot.

I had glanced through their flood coverage online. But only after visiting the area couild I fully appreciate the impact and the damage and fully engage in the coverage.

I also took in the amazing exhibit of Gazette photos at the local art museum and it ocurred to me that online editors face a challenge similar to that of the exhibit designer at a museum when it comes to designing special coverage.

The first priority: grab the audience right away.

Then quickly convey the significance and the magnitude of the event.

An art gallery exhibit has the advantage of walls of space, of course. A web site has the costraints of the user’s browser and computer monitor. But it’s important in both cases to deliver as much impact as possible right away. The Gazette project page does this in two ways: the use of large-format photographs and the essential facts that tell an outsider (like me) how significant an event this was (more than 5,000 homes were lost).

The museum exhibit did this, too, with a traditional introduction panel. It also used a healthy dose of irony when choosing the exhibit’s title: The Year of the River.

In May 2007, the city of Cedar Rapids and Linn County designated 2008 the “Year of the River” to draw attention to the Cedar River, a vital aspect of downtown Cedar Rapids.  No one could anticipate the devastating floods of 2008 that ultimately affected so many communities in Eastern Iowa.  The power and force of area rivers made themselves known in a manner that had never been witnessed before.  It truly was the year of the river.

The next time you are involved in designing a special project online, try thinking like a museum director. Your audience (and your photojournalists) will appreciate it.

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