Critique: The Child Exchange – Reuters

Link to the site: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1

Although this site is not necessarily related to crime directly, the site does contain lots of stories that concerns the safety and the well-being of adopted children in the U.S.

Reuters investigative reporters and data journalists spent 18 month examining how American parents used the Internet to find families for children they regret adopting. “The Child Exchange” is a five-part investigation report which revealed how parents use online forums and message board to send their unwanted children to virtual strangers with little or no government scrutiny.

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Clean and simple — this is my first impression on this feature site. The webpage used lots of white spaces, and I was surprised the designer didn’t choose any dark color to reflect the sadness of the stories. Perhaps the designer and editor were trying to editorialize the information since those stories are already very controversial.

The project contains five parts, and we can find it out clearly from the navigation at the top with images. I clicked on the first section “the network” and realize the homepage itself is the first section. This confused me a little bit, because I think an important investigative project like this deserves an introduction to summarize its purposes and findings at the index page.

I went though all the five sections, and realize there are A LOT OF information when I scroll down each pages. It seems like I could keep scrolling down to see endless text with occasional encounter with images, graphics and quotes. As a viewer, no matter how much I was intrigued by this project, I would rather watch an interview at the beginning of the article and get a sense of what the story is about, rather than reading every sentences while having no idea where those sentences are taking me to.

To summarize my overall user experience, I think the site is easy to navigate, maybe too easy to navigate. I want to see depth and layers on the design of the website, which will match the theme of the topic. Contents are rich, but confusing and disorienting by the way they were put together.

The project had interview videos to convey the emotion of victims, images to show the people affects, and graphics to show the story’s broader context. But unfortunately I don’t see enough efforts being made to combine them together appropriately. I think one way to improve the site’s design is to create another navigation at the right side of the page, so viewers could preview the content coming next, rather than letting people get lost in its long, vertical layout.

I read some reviews of this Reuters project, and found some interesting reactions from adoption agencies oversea. I would assume the coverage was intended to target a wide range of audience who are involved in some sort of child adoption process or had intention to do so. But I think an investigative journalism piece must also intended to convey the message to the government, or whoever should be held accountable for the consequences. Reporters are encouraged to gather complete stories from different sides in order to answer questions and address concerns from the coverage’s intended audience.

Despite some inconvenience reflected from its user experience, the site did a good job of handling the nature of the story as an ongoing one rather than a single episode. All five sections are closely related to one another. The network, the danger, the middleman, the failures, the survivors are five parts which produced an overall picture of this project. The project showed emotions, hard facts, humanized angles, as well as hope at the end.

I think this is an amazing investigative journalism project. From its website, I also realized the importance of design that is able to intrigue viewers into the stories.

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