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April 8, 2008

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Blue Dog Group

The Blue Dogs have one of the most successful leadership PACs in the House at the moment, said the CQ story.

Great, I said. Who are the Blue Dogs?

One of the things I'm working on for CQ is "explainer" journalism. The publication goes out to a fairly rarified audience (or particularly unrarified, depending on your view of Congress), and so it often makes high assumptions about the legislative knowledge of its readers. But as my editor often points out, CQ's audience also includes the people who just started on the Hill 15 minutes ago--and even among the more experienced readers, nobody knows everything.

Unlike, say, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Blue Dogs are not self-explanatory. Yet they've become a swing vote on economic bills in the House, and we mention them a lot. So who are they? Who are the members, what do they care about, and why are they blue? To answer those questions, I put together this graphic:

The idea of "trading cards" came first, honestly. But as I thought more about how these lawmakers are a swing vote, I figured we could also use it metaphorically--we labeled it "Wild Cards: A CQ Guide to the Blue Dog Coalition."

Although it was posted Monday morning, I wasn't actually satisfied with the applet until the afternoon, when I added party unity information directly to the cards. That info had been delayed because I didn't have access to it in the database, so instead I was just linking to the relevant webpage. That works, but to me it defeats the purpose--if all I'm going to do is present CQ's existing member information, why not just link to those pages? The graphic supports the story much more clearly if the user can see the relevant stats directly, without having to open new browser windows. I had to write a screenscraper to pull it off our site--by this point, I'm getting pretty good at handling Flash, so I used Actionscript's RegEx support to translate the HTML into XML--and then integrating it into the cards was a relatively simple matter.

And yes, that's Wallace on the front card. We're hoping the fame won't go to his head.

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