Politico’s profile today of William Arkin, the co-author of Washington Post two-time Pulitzer winner Dana Priest’s fresh-off-the-presses “Top Secret America” investigation, reveals that the digital component was a big part of project.
Priest tells Politico that she met up with Arkin in 2008, after the two had been working separately on trying to quantify the scope of the intelligence apparatus that had emerged in the wake of 9/11. “The ‘lightning strike’,” Politico says, “came when they realized that although they couldn’t get inside these secret sites, they could physically represent them through databases and mapping.”
The story quotes WashPo executive editor Marcus Brauchli as saying the paper has been trying to get the paper’s newsroom “more digitally focused” over the past two years. Arkin’s skills and background, which includes a stint as an Army analyst in Berlin in the 1970s, brought a lot to the project. “Bill has a very strong digital sensibility,” Brauchli told Politico, and “a way of thinking about information collection and presentation that was especially useful for this project.”
The online component of the story includes a dedicated mini-site (topsecretamerica.com) where you can search a database of companies with intelligence contracts, view a map of where those companies are located, and peruse a wheel showing the network of relationships between the companies working for the government.
Priest tells Politico they actively worked to make the digital component an integral part of the story. “We really wanted to conceive of a way to make journalism different.”