GUEST COMMENTARY: Building the interactive timeline that went everywhere

Interactive timeline from The Maneater

A lot has happened at Mizzou this semester, including administrative resignations, student-led protests and secretive Board of Curators meetings. At The Maneater, Mizzou's student-run newspaper, we decided it would be a good idea to put everything that had happened in a timeline to create a simple way for people to navigate the events of the semester.

I collected the information for the timeline with another Maneater reporter, Tessa Weinberg. We started by looking through The Maneater’s online archives and pulling out any event from this semester that was controversial or connected to other events, such as the series of race relations-related protests. We didn’t have a specific rule for what should be included, but we collected a series of events that we felt was comprehensive without being overwhelming in quantity.

The Maneater’s online development editor, Carlie Procell, coded the timeline using Timeline JS, a program developed by the Northwestern University Knight Lab. The code is very easy to adapt and update, which allowed me to keep the timeline updated throughout the week of Tim Wolfe’s and Loftin’s resignations when so many newsworthy things kept happening.

The timeline is now the most-viewed piece of content ever on The Maneater’s website, with nearly 200,000 views. It got 64,000 views on Monday, Nov. 9 alone. 

I think the timeline ended up being so popular because so many people started following the story later than those of us here in Columbia. That’s probably also the reason publications including the New York Times, Washington Post and The Atlantic linked to it – it provides background of what this semester at Mizzou has looked like in a format that’s easy to digest.

Creating the timeline taught me that sometimes there are much more effective ways to tell a story than through text. Had we written out all that had happened this semester, it would have been thousands of words long and not nearly as appealing to readers. It provided an easy way to include photos, video and other multimedia with short text descriptions as well as links to stories we’d already published throughout the semester.

It’s hard to recap all the events this semester that led up to Wolfe’s and Loftin’s resignation, but being able to read through short summaries of them chronologically helps outside readers understand our campus. While breaking news is important, stepping back to provide big-picture news and context is just as important, especially as students who can provide background information that many larger media outlets don’t have.

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