Conrad Fox

International reporting projects, migration and robotics


Some other posts

Beyond the blog

Nov. 2, 2015

Making a website for Immigration Uncovered should have been a simple project. The product was short, self-contained news stories. They were all completed, so there was a finite number of them. And there were not many of them: just ---, (or at most  ---, depending how you count). On the face of it, the project was perfectly suited for display in a bog standard Word Press site. Download a pre-made template for $80.00, paste in the stories, create static pages for a few contributors' bios and add a few tags to give the impress of rich interconnections. Press publish and done!

There was one small twist, however. Each story was produced by two contributors, and resulted in two published articles, one in English and one in Spanish. The project's unique selling point is that the reporters -- one from the US, and one from the country being reported on -- work side-by-side in a kind collaboration across cultures. We wanted to emphasize this partnership as much as possible We had photos of the reporters working together, we had essays they wrote themselves about what they learnt from their partners, and we wanted to display their stories next to each other on the same page. Our story index had to be more than an unsorted agglomeration of all the stories: it make the links between the reporting partners and their stories as explicit as possible.

The standard Wordpressy approach to this kind of arrangement would be adding an "English" tag and a "Spanish" tag to each story, and a "related stories" link between pairs. If no other tags were to be used in the project that might be reasonable, but tags are the odd sock drawer of information retrieval. Users throw authors, co-authors, locations (city, country and, why not, continent for good measure?) of both the story and the reporters, topics, publishing outlets and anything else they can think of onto the tag list, each time believing they are contributing to the refinement of the story archive. Eventually, it gets so long it is irrelevent, and users just tack new tags on to the top to avoid having to scroll through several pages of tags to find the one they need.

The other problem with the standard Wordpress approach is that it only allows you to express that one connection: ie. between two related stories. But we wanted to express many connections.





For 15 years, Conrad lived in Mexico, where he worked as a freelance radio and print journalist. His work took him into a minefield, a gunfight, a dugout canoe and the homes of many fascinating, brave and generous people. He is also an avid teacher and has led classes in radio, robotics, soccer, physics and anthropology in a diversity of places, including office towers, lecture halls, fields and palm thatched huts.