iPhone App, Children’s Coloring Book, Searchable Database Among Components Of California Watch’s Winning Project

The Center for Investigative Reporting and its online reporting initiative California Watch won the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism for their “On Shaky Ground” series about earthquake safety at California public schools.

In addition to a three-part reporting series, On Shaky Ground included multiple online components that helped the organization earn the $5,000 prize. The project was published more than a year ago, but it’s such a good one that its worth recapping all the various elements.

The map and database

The investigation included a map and database component that lets users see whether a particular school is near a fault and whether construction there raised red flags.

If you remember the post I wrote about Brian Boyer’s tips for creating a usable app, the three questions he asks are 1) Who are our users? 2) What are their needs? and 3) How can we help them fulfill their needs? This app addresses each of those in a very usable way — readers can create their own stories through the data by seeing information that is particularly useful to them based on where their children go to school, or where they might work.

I also love the the app is super user friendly. There are clearly-labeled steps 1, 2 and 3, as well as breadcrumb navigation at the top of the page to show your location within the app, and clear “getting started” text atop the page.

Interactive visualization

To help guide you through some of the largest quakes in California since 1769, the project plots the incidents on a map that plays in chronological order. You can also scrub through the timeline to see all earthquakes at your own pace.

Children’s coloring book

Perhaps the most innovation portion of this investigation was the part that reached out to children. The online coloring book for download and purchase in multiple languages helped share information with an unlikely audience– the children potentially impacted by this study. The coloring book helps kids prepare for an earthquake. When the project was live, there was also a coloring contest, surely used as incentive to get kids to read the book on a deadline, rather than having it get lost in a sea of other children’s books.

Twitter chat

As a means of sharing information on earthquake preparedness, California Watch also hosted a Twitter chat to answer questions and provide answers about staying safe during a quake. From prepping a car kit for earthquakes on the go, to staying safe if an earthquake hits at the gym, the chat was full of informative tidbits. Read the full transcript for more.

myFault iPhone app

The iPhone application, called myFault, helps you identify dangers near your home, school or workplace based on official maps of seismic hazards. It also includes an earthquake preparedness checklist and a flashlight, just in case.

*Full disclosure: I have designed graphics for California Watch on a freelance basis. I was not involved in this particular project.