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Beacon blog: Presentation and parking

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 9, 2010 - Communication requires a sender and a receiver: That's your basic COMM 101 class in college. But there's another important part to the equation -- the message has to be in a format the receiver can understand.

I'm Brent Jones, the Presentation Editor at the Beacon. I'm responsible for how we present ourselves: From the overall design of the site (such as the relatively austere home page -- a conscious choice), to special sections we do (such as our short series on Kirkwood or our year-long work on Race, Frankly), and even how an individual story displays photos and info boxes and so on (though other editors often do a fantastic job of this on stories they work with). It's my job to take important information - news that matters - and show it to you in a way that makes it easy to find, easy to read and easy to understand.


I hope to use my contributions to this blog to highlight ways the Beacon is focusing on presenting news that matters - why we design a story in a certain way, new features of the site, breaking down parts of a bigger project - as well as highlighting some good presentation from around the Web and innovations in how to bring you news. By having a conversation about the best ways to show you what you're interested in, I hope we can get better at it and you can have a better understanding of why we do what we do in this area.

A recent example of our commitment to presentation is our story on development in Grand Center. The result was an image-rich, visually interesting story paired with a monster infographic.

Reporter Elia Powers wrote the story and capsules on developments in the neighborhood. Features and Commentary Editor Donna Korando worked with the story and photos to create a presentation that was easy to read, with visual cues to the places mentioned in the story. On its own, the story is a great example of taking a story that matters, getting information that appeals to readers of diverse interests and then making it easy to read and attractive.

Digging deeper, we decided also to look at parking in the area. Always a contentious issue in St. Louis, parking was again the subject of controversy in Grand Center when in May the district reconfigured the time allowed at many of the parking meters. Some people say there's too much parking, while others complain they can't find a space. Numbers have been reported anywhere from 2,500 spots to 1,800 meters alone.

To clear up the confusion, we decided to count parking available in the area. After choosing boundaries, we used Google Maps to zoom in on all parking lots in the area and counted the marked spaces. Then a few interns and I took to the streets and counted parking meters, noting where the meters were marked for 90-minute parking or 4-hour parking.

After collecting the data, I had to decide the best way to show what we found. I chose to explain and summarize the data at the top of the graphic: The headline and parking meter immediately show what the subject is, and the final tally of available spaces is at the top in a big, bold number. That is quickly followed by a thumbnail map of the area we counted. Breaking the numbers down into spaces versus meters -- and which kinds of meters -- comes next, with pie charts to show the proportions of each. Finally, a I wrote a note about what exactly was counted and what wasn't.

At the bottom of the graphic is a stylized map of the area, showing each lot and grouping of meters, as well as the number of available spaces and, for the meters, the time limit. This took the graphic one step further than raw numbers, allowing us to show how much parking was in proximity to some of the attractions in the area. For example, you can see at a glance that east of Grand primarily has metered parking with a limit of 90 minutes, but west of Grand has a much larger portion of 4-hour meters.

So that's the story. We could have taken the count and written a story that said "There are 4,200 total parking spaces in Grand Center, including 3,637 marked spaces in parking lots and 563 meters." Instead, we chose to format a message that matters in a more visually interesting way, that it would be more easily found, more easily read and better understood. That's our goal.