How NPR built its Civil Rights Act interactive

Journalists usually try to cover current events, keep excess quotes to a minimum and remove their notes from the final draft. On Wednesday, journalists at NPR threw out these rules.

The result? An interactive feature born from a document penned a half-century ago, annotated by modern writers and published with minimal editing.

NPR journalist Kat Chow said she was trying to figure out how to cover the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in an unconventional way.

She got an idea in June, she said, after reading a News Genius article with interactive notes posted in the margins. Instead of writing a story covering the impact of the Civil Rights Act, why not just post the law online in its entirety and let experts mark it up? The team at Codeswitch copied the act’s text into a Google Document and invited a team of historians, lawyers and journalists annotate the important parts. Then, after some minor edits, they published the document online, notes and all.

The final version shows the full text of the law, interspersed with historical photos that show the protests leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Readers can scroll through the law and click away to the marginalia or toggle to another view that displays the commentary prominently after every annotated sentence.

Although Codeswitch doesn’t want to “fall into a formula,” the team might try a similar tack with other stories,  adding variety by incorporating sound or letting readers add their own comments, Chow said.

Related: News Genius editor explains annotating Newsweek’s entire Bitcoin article | Marc Andreessen annotates that NPR Internet memo

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