Updated 12/8/07, 9:48am. The New York Times continues its tradition of mapping traumatic spaces in its remediation of the shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, where Robert A. Hawkins killed eight people with an assault rifle.
I have wondered for some time now how the Times decides which traumatic events to map the spaces of and how intricate to make the mapping. For example, the above mapping is a single jpg file. The below images of the murder of students at Virginia Tech and the collapse of the I-95 highway bridge in Minneapolis are stills from interactive Flash graphics. Compare these to the mapping of the July 17, 1981, Kansas City Hyatt Hotel walkway collapse in which over 110 were killed (from July 28, 1981, New York Times, page D19). The murder of students at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA, did not receive a graphic.
In the final assignment of a class called Writing, Research, and Technology, my students use Tufte’s ideas on evidence presentations to consider the ethical implications of New York Times graphics, specifically those that accompany an article about the Sept 11th attacks. Students embed screen shots into Word docs and use Tuftean mapping techniques (arrows, call-outs, highlighting portions of the images, and so forth) to compose multimodel texts that attempt to more seamlessly present evidence. In his most recent book, Beautiful Evidence, Tufte declares in the Introduction:
Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus, consuming a presentation is also an intellectual and moral activity. (p. 9)
Tufte spends the whole of his spectacular text teaching readers how to become better creators and consumers of evidence presentations—presentations like the graphics created by the New York Times graphics team. His exploration of visual rhetoric and their arguments is complex and elusive to most students (which is why I like it as a text). And, yet, when they finally are able to wrap their minds around his ideas and techniques, their essays become so intricate, nuanced, and fascinating that they become some of the most pleasurable essays that I have read in the decade that I have been teaching writing: