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Archive for December 26th, 2008

A draft of my Sunday column:

Many of the stories, photos and videos at iowafloodstories.com will already be familiar to you. We want you to add your own stories, photos and videos to make this a complete record of the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood.

What is new about iowafloodstories.com is the presentation. You can use a map or search window to look for specific properties and click to read the stories and look at the photos and videos of hundreds of individual homes and businesses.

The map already leads to stories, photos and videos shot by staff members of The Gazette and GazetteOnline as well as photos posted on Flickr and videos from YouTube. We hope eventually it will include even more stories, photos and videos submitted by the residents and business owners who experienced the flood.

Before I came to The Gazette, I was studying the use of databases by newspaper companies. They are great tools for answering questions about a community in much greater detail than a news story can. I wrote a report on databases for the American Press Institute as one of my last chores before coming to The Gazette.

When I came here, I was pleased that Zack Kucharski already was doing outstanding work with databases, which I like to call answerbases because most people who use them don’t really think of themselves as looking for data. We want answers to our questions. Kucharski was already providing answers to questions about Hawkeye football history, state salaries, crime and other topics.

On June 11, my second day on the job, I told him we were going to do lots of interesting things with databases to provide answers to our community’s questions. Though we knew at the time that the Cedar River was rising, expected to crest at record levels in Cedar Rapids in a couple of days, we couldn’t realize yet how many questions the flood would present and how many ways we would use databases to provide answers.

In the months since the flood, Kucharski has posted databases answering questions about such topics as reopened businesses, missing pets and buyouts. We’re still working on getting records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For much of that time, Kucharski and other colleagues were also working on iowafloodstories.com.

We should credit our colleagues at the Des Moines Register for inspiring some of the format for iowafloodstories. They developed an outstanding map that told the story of each property in Parkersburg, with photos before and after the May 25 tornado and with stories, photos and videos from the Register’s coverage attached to the appropriate properties. We liked the idea, but had far more properties (more than 7,000) to chronicle in Cedar Rapids.

The Carl and Mary Koehler History Center, Coe College and Mount Mercy College collaborated in this project, helping us collect people’s stories.

Dozens of Gazette and GazetteOnline staff members contributed stories, photos and videos to the archive. Librarian John McGlothlen and Production Coordinator Diana Pesek assisted in loading stories from the Gazette archives into the database. Matthew Manuel and Matt Thiessen did the web development. Kucharski contributed in more ways than I could understand or detail here.

The result is an archive of this flood that will grow as you and we add more stories, photos and videos. We have some more work to do on it this week, so we encourage you to take a look today and to come back again and again.

Mostly we encourage you to add your own stories and photos. If you lived or worked in the flood zone, tell us about your home or business – what it was like before the flood, how badly it was damaged, about the cleanup and rebuilding.

Send us photos and videos – if they weren’t ruined – of your home before the flood. We have the static photos from the county assessor’s office, but we want to see children playing in the yard, family celebrations in the home. We want your photos and videos of the damage, cleanup and rebuilding. If you have questions, need help or have printed materials to be digitized contact Kucharski  at (319) 398-8219 or zack.kucharski@gazcomm.com.

My last note reflects a bit of vanity, but we want your help in preparing our public service entry for the Pulitzer Prizes. In emails and in person, many of you have suggested we have a shot at a Pulitzer for our flood coverage. Of course, every journalist dreams of winning the big prize someday, but my sincere answer was always that the highest honor in journalism is not the Pulitzer Prize but the respect of your community. So I am more honored that you think we should win than I will be if we do.

Of course we are going to enter. We are selecting our best photos and stories for the various categories where we think we have a chance. But I liked a suggestion from our financial editor, George C. Ford. When we were discussing what to submit in the public service category, he suggested asking the public.

What did we do in print or online that most helped you during the disaster itself or as the community has been rebuilding? What stories, columns, editorials, text alerts, photos, videos, databases, graphics or other information from The Gazette, GazetteOnline and GazetteToGo most served the public in 2008?

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