Monday, June 16, 2008

6/4 Evening: Patchwork Nation

So many sessions to choose from—there's no way I could capture it all. We closed the evening by breaking up into a bunch of small sessions. I attended one hosted by Dante Chinni, who talked about Patchwork Nation, the project he directs for the Christian Science Monitor.

Patchwork Nation is cool in numerous ways. The title comes from the map that shows every county in the U.S. defined as one of 11 community types. The main map shows each county as the one type it fits the most. For more detail, you can click on each community type and see just how much each type appears in the DNA of different places. For instance, you might see two counties listed as Evangelical Epicenters, but you might find that one is strong in that category and not in any others, while another county is only slightly higher in the EE category than in two or three other categories, suggesting more diversity in that latter community.

O.K., I could play with the demographics alone all night. For us bloggers, Patchwork Nation is not just a source of cool stats. The citizen-journalism side of the project is the bloggers CSM has recruited from each type of community across the nation. These bloggers give the local perspective on the 2008 Presidential campaign... the real local perspective, not just the perspective as perceived and filtered by the big-media journalist who parachutes in for a day or two, gets a few quotes, then writes her story on the plane back to New York City.

This project feels a little like the GIMBY stuff Ned Hodgman talked about Thursday (that's a separate post -- stay tuned!). CSM is focusing Patchwork Nation on the Presidential campaign, but it could so easily be tapped for following the impact of politics, economics, cultural events, you name it on diverse portions of the country, on local communities whose voices just aren't sampled by the media in any systematic fashion. This project is the kind of journalism that can assemble a lot fo small pictures into a better big picture than we usually get from the media. Very cool.

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