2012 in Review: Shazna Nessa

OpenStreetMap, Bat for Lashes, Blitz maps, the Ippies & the NYPL Labs

The Bomb Sight project (bombsight.org)

As we reach the end of 2012, we’ve asked a few designers and developers working in journalism to talk about a few projects and posts they loved—and didn’t work on themselves.

Shazna Nessa is deputy managing editor, editorial products and innovations at the Associated Press, where her department creates interactive features like the AP’s reponsive and widely used live election maps.

Mapping the Blitz in London

This mapping project plots bombs that fell in London over a period of eight months during the Blitz of World War II. The effect of visualizing the map is astounding, not least since this user is a London native and I can quickly find out that 92 high explosive bombs were dropped on my old stomping grounds. A team from the University of Portsmouth built the project by scanning bomb census maps and extracting the geographical information, also pulling in other archival sources that include photos from the Imperial War Museum and war memories written by the public that were gathered by the BBC.

R&D at the Library

(image via NYPL Labs)

I got goose bumps listening to Ben Vershbow’s ideas at the Columbia J-School’s Journalism and Technology breakfast at New York’s Soho House. Vershbow leads a team at the New York Public Library that push for all kinds of innovation, exploring how to bring, in the words of NYPL, “the memory of humankind” and its “irreplaceable repositories of documents of human thought and action” to live on in new ways. To thrive, the institution must rethink how it interacts with its audience and Vershbow’s team explores what that might look like. Just look at the popular crowd sourcing menu project —the team opened up the library’s extensive menu collection to be transcribed by the public because OCR wasn’t cutting some of the fancy typography and designs of century-old menus. The project yielded the library’s very first public API. It’s another example of why investments in lab/R&D work at institutions are so necessary.



Many news orgs spent time figuring out where to go next with online mapping, including my own valiant team at AP Interactive who have been working on a mapping stack. It’s an ongoing challenge for all of us so folks who are dedicated to making mapping get better and more accessible are my heroes. It was terrific to see OpenStreetMap get Knight Foundation funding and meet Eric Gunderson of MapBox at the ONA conference this year. And while we’re on the topic, Monmonier’s classic book “How to lie with Maps” came back into my rotation this year, a must-read for map fans and the curious.

Pitchfork’s Bat for Lashes Story Design

Bat for Lashes on Pitchfork

Pitchfork’s custom story designs created a ripple in the design world, though some complained about the lack of responsive design and heavy load times for mobile. That aside the Bat for Lashes story is still a fresh experience on desktop computers (so passé, I know). No it wasn’t responsive but love it or hate it, it ignited discussions that bring to light some of the opportunities and challenges of designing stories today.

Ethnic Media & the Filter Bubble

DNAInfo’s crime mapping

They have been around for a while but I first heard about the Ippies this year, a contest that celebrates independent and ethnic press in New York. Participating on the jury was a huge reminder of how a filter bubble haze can so easily cause one to lose sight of other communities and cultures. Not knowing about those stories can only narrow our worldview. Not good. It was great to see emphasis on digital design and data journalism in some of the Ippie entries, such as DNAInfo’s crime project.


  • Shazna Nessa

    Global Head of Visuals, Deputy Managing Editor @WSJ / Former Director, Journalism @knightfdn + @AP @CondeNast


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