Building ‘Finding Help,’ an interactive tool for sexual assault resources at OU

Today at the OU Daily, we launched an interactive tool that aims to guide students through the overwhelming number of options they have after experiencing a sexual assault.

It’s a tool I never want anyone to have to use. It starts students off with four main routes for what to do after a sexual assault: they can talk to someone, get medical help, report to OU or report to law enforcement.

A screengrab of “Finding Help,” an interactive tool I built to guide students through the process of getting help after a sexual assault.

Clicking on each of those links takes students to different interconnected pages that let them know, step by step, what would happen if they decided to go to the OU Police Department to report a sexual assault, for example. There are pages for what a student could expect if they told their counselor at the University Counseling Center or if they called the OU Advocates hotline.

The idea

I had the idea for this project after I wrote a story last October about sexual assault research that had been presented to OU’s top administrators by OU researchers and was, for one reason or another, ignored.

The researchers let me republish their report, and one page of it particularly jumped out at me during the course of that story — this one:

Screengrab from a report about sexual assault at OU.

There were so many options for getting help after a sexual assault. I remember thinking: Where in the world do you start?

How do you know which one to pick?

Where do you end up?

Those are the questions we set out to answer, but there’s no one right answer to any of them.  Instead, we were able to look in detail at a lot of different processes and starting points, and hopefully take some of the uncertainty out of an experience I can only imagine is terrifying.

Behind the scenes

Several of us at The Daily contributed to the reporting of this story — we’d done most of the reporting last semester, when we decided to embark on this project. So we ended up with a lot of information and no ideas on how to organize it.

This semester, we jumped back on it, tying up the loose ends of the information-gathering. But I was still stumped for how to make it work in an interactive way. I had the elements of a flowchart in mind, but didn’t know how to actually build one.

Then, after googling lots of variations of the words “interactive storytelling,” I found Twine — it’s a free, open source tool for making interactive, non-linear stories! Lots of people use it to make video games or Goosebumps-style “choose your own adventure” stories, so it was super cool to find a way to make it work in a journalistic, utility-driven context.

I mentioned this project has a lot of interconnected parts, right? Here’s what it looks like when you’re building the Twine.

Here’s what the Twine looks like on my end.

So, it was a lot of trial and error.

I got a lot of help from Kathy Fahl, who’s the director of the Gender + Equality Center at OU and the coordinator for OU Advocates — she provided such thoughtful advice and a lot of fact-checking assistance.

And my editor Jesse was endlessly patient with me  — he cut me a lot of slack on deadlines when I had no idea what I was doing.

Like I said, I hope no one ever has to use this tool. But I’ve seen friends go through this enough times to know that sexual assault is a problem at OU. Hopefully, this tool can make an already scary process — one no one should ever have to go through — a little less uncertain.

What I learned: Python for Data Journalists

Last night, I finished up a free online course on using the Python programming language for data journalism. I was so excited when I saw someone tweet about this course, and extra excited when I saw it was being taught by Ben Welsh, the Los Angeles Times data desk editor.

The course was fantastic because it walked you through the very basics of data analysis with Python using public data about campaign contributions to several propositions on the Nov. 2016 ballot in the state of California, and by the end of the class, I’d published an analysis of the proposition to get rid of the death penalty in California to GitHub.

I’ve taken multiple semester-long programming courses in school that weren’t nearly as productive — those classes focused on Java, which just isn’t the language people are using to do the kind of work I wanted to do. This course also was so much less intimidating than in-person ones I’d taken, and maybe that’s the beauty of taking an online course, where there are no mansplaining lab partners and no comparing myself people who were just getting it more easily than I did.

I’m particularly excited about learning how to publish Jupyter Notebooks to GitHub — I’d seen this end-product on GitHub before and had no idea how people got their work to show up like that.  But look! I did it too:

A screengrab of my published analysis. Click through if you wanna see it. Critiques welcome.

I’m so thankful that Ben and the Knight Center were able to offer this course for free — I learned so much, and I’m excited to keep learning.

Do you know of any good sources of public data I should look at to keep working these Python analysis skills? Tweet at me.

I believe the course is closed now, but the “textbook” (which includes really helpful video lectures) is here, if you wanted to work through it on your own.

Behind the scenes: Building the OU Daily projects site

In February, we publicly launched our projects website for the OU Daily: Our main site is hosted through TownNews and uses a content management system called BLOX, but for the projects site, we decided to use WordPress.

BLOX is stable and trustworthy and simple to navigate, but we wanted a piece of the site to use WordPress because allows for some more flexible design options.

We’d talked at The Daily about wanting to create a “Snow Fall” type package — our staff uses “snowfall” as a verb now, referring to creating web presentations like the one the New York Times did in 2012 for its piece “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.”

Screengrab from the New York Times piece “Snow Fall.”

It’s an amazing example of multimedia journalism presented beautifully for the web, and we’ve wanted to emulate something like that at The Daily for a long time now.

I had the fortune of meeting Adam Croom, the director of digital learning at OU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, my sophomore year. He’s the brain behind OU Create — the initiative that gives OU students, faculty and staff access to free domains so they can have their own blogs and portfolio sites. (Side note: OU Create is how I started It’s an awesome project.)

Adam and I met for coffee my sophomore year to talk about OU Create and what we were up to at The Daily, and I talked to him about how we wanted to create more immersive, beautiful web presentations. He met with my adviser, Seth Prince, in the fall of 2016 and they talked more about it. Adam agreed to take a story The Daily had already published, that was full of photos and tweets and video, and take a stab at presenting it like “Snow Fall.”

He took this:

Screen grab from an OU Daily story headlined: “How SAE fueled an OU turnaround.”

And showed us this:

Screen grab from Adam Croom’s redesign of an OU Daily story. Click through on the photo to scroll through it.

It was so exciting to see an OU Daily story presented in a much more compelling way than we’d ever been able to before. Adam made a clone site of the story he redesigned for us and let us log into the back end of it to play around and see how it was built.

He let us know what themes and plugins he used to build the awesome presentation he showed us, and with that, we had the keys to building our projects site. We didn’t host it through OU Create, but Adam showed us that building a “Snow Fall”-esque presentation wasn’t out of reach.

So, in February, we launched the projects site publicly with a story about how long OU students wait to get mental health care. We called it “Waiting Game.”

Leaning a lot on Adam’s example, I designed the presentation for this story, written by the incredibly talented Emma Keith. Here’s how it turned out:

Screen grab from OU Daily project “Waiting Game.” Click through on the photo to scroll through it.

When we hit publish, it was something the whole staff celebrated, and we got to have a really cool, important conversation with our readers about mental health care. Look out for a future post, where I’ll talk about how we thought up this story idea and how we found people to talk to about it.