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Explore Sources: A New Feature to "Show Our Work"

Marshall Allen's story is annotated with our new Explore Sources feature.

Update, July 29: Our Explore Sources tool is also featured on a new series, Life and Death in Assisted Living. Read the first story.

We’re debuting a new feature today as part of Marshall Allen’s story about one woman’s fight with a Texas hospital to find out how her husband died.

In the course of reporting the piece, Marshall made over 500 annotations in 64 documents he uploaded to DocumentCloud, many of which were sources of facts in his story. He told us about this wealth of metadata, and wanted a way to present it to readers. We agreed that we didn’t want to show them in a separate graphic or interactive feature, but rather sprinkled throughout the story itself.

So we made a special feature we’re calling Explore Sources. To try it, click the “ON” button next to “Explore Sources” at the beginning of the article. Words and phrases throughout the piece will turn yellow. Click these yellow highlights to see the portion of the source document from which Marshall got that fact. Once the annotation is visible, click the document image inside of the popup to go to the full document in DocumentCloud, or anywhere else to dismiss it.

Behind the Scenes

To speed up the process of adding the links, we built a small web application which let Marshall select snippets of text in his story, just as he would in a word processor, and associate it with a DocumentCloud annotation via a point-and-click interface. The tool exports code that we can easily paste into our content management system.

Our newsroom web app helps reporters annotate their stories.

DocumentCloud already had a feature that allows people to embed annotations, and DocumentCloud developer Ted Han graciously added the ability to pass custom callbacks to the document embed function, which made it possible for our software to work.

While “Explore Sources” is just an experiment, we look forward to finding new ways to use it to make our reporting process more transparent and accountable, and when we can we’ll open source the code so other newsrooms can show their work, too.

Update: January 10, 2012: This post has been changed to clarify Marshall Allen's role in the project.

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