The DC chapter of the Online News Association held a panel discussion at Washington Post headquarters. The panel consisted of six of the Post digital journalists who worked on Top Secret America, a two year project about the growing number of top secret government contracts.
Ryan O’Neill, the backend developer, was the first techie that Dana Priest, a Post Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, recruited to help with the detailed data analysis. Due to the time required to develop the story, the Post wanted to keep the existence of the investigation secret. Since nobody knew about the project, no one was accountable to anybody.
Dan Drinkard did the front end development, Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso was the cartographer, and Kat Downs was the graphic designer. All three of them did a lot of data visualization. Kat concentrated on the relationships of which contractors worked with what government agencies on certain types of functions. One such function they reported on was ‘human collection.’ What does that mean, finding dead bodies? When she found out it meant spying, she suggested to Dana Priest, “For the sake of the story, let’s just call it ‘spying.’”
Interestingly, out of the eight hundred companies they analyzed, Kat showed the graphic of one of my former employer’s relationship to government agencies. Even though it wasn’t in the top twenty largest employers. But my other former employer was in the top twenty.
Sarah Sampsel worked on web page layout, or ‘blowing apart the Post’s home page,’ and Jennifer Jenkins was the fact checker for Top Secret America.