Dark shadows

Dark shadows, Clay Shirky on politics of infographics and software interfaces. “The Washington Post has produced a white-people map of murder. Homicide Watch has produced a brown-people map.” Yes.

The Post’s default view is a map. Homicide Watch’s default view is a face. The Post’s view is aggregate and historical; Homicide Watch’s is personal and recent. The Post focuses on murders, Homicide Watch on victims. The Post gives you all the murders; you have to zoom in for the details. Homicide Watch starts with the most recent events; you have to zoom out for the bigger picture. The most recent murder the Post puts on its map was in December of 2011. As I write this, the most recent murder Homicide Watch put on its map was last night—Howard Venable Jr., stabbed to death at Fuller and 16th NW.

The Post’s map is about neighborhoods and patterns. (When I showed the Post’s map to my journalism students and asked whom they thought the ideal audience was, they said, “Realtors.”) Homicide Watch’s map is about people and events. The Post’s map tells you things like, “Stay the hell away from Anacostia.” HW tells you that Venable was 68 years old, and gives you a tip line for the cops, if you have any idea who killed him.

Not to put too fine a point on it, The Washington Post has produced a white-people map of murder, a map that assumes you couldn’t possibly know the victim. Homicide Watch has produced a brown-people map—a map that assumes you might, a map for a city where brown people are 30 times more likely to be murdered than white people.