Internet Reviews

Joni R. Roberts; Carol A. Drost


County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. Access: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/.

Brad Matthies, Casper College Library, bmatthies@caspercollege.edu

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Organized by U.S. county, the project measures vital health factors, such as obesity, smoking, unemployment, food insecurity, income, and graduation rates. The website also includes “Roadmaps to Health,” which help health practitioners turn the provided health data into community action.

The central feature of the site’s landing page is an interactive map of the United States. This map allows visitors to select a given state and see a selection of health outcomes and factors, organized by county. Researchers not wanting to use the interactive map feature can limit their search query by health measures and a given state. For example, a query for the health measure “insufficient sleep” and “California” results in a page that summarizes survey responses by county. Further options for query refinement include a definition of the health measure, date of the survey, an explanation of the survey method, and any supplementary sources used. The site also boasts advanced features, including downloadable data tables and the ability to compare health measures by counties.

Researchers who like to analyze and manipulate data will appreciate the ability to download the data tables. The county comparison feature is the website’s strongest feature and allows researchers to compare health measures between two or more counties.

The ability to compare county health factors between states is a new site feature. As such, it is not readily apparent that the user has to conduct the search first, and then use the state and county dropdown menus to run a second comparison search. After completing the second search, a county comparison by respective states is displayed in table format. Librarians and other researchers familiar with search interfaces will figure this out quickly, however, the novice researchers may struggle.

Overall, this site is an excellent resource for information on vital health factors by state and county. Both beginning and advanced researchers will find County Health Rankings a valuable addition to their research.

FairVote. Access: http://www.fairvote.org/.

Michael Rodriguez, University of Connecticut, michael.a.rodriguez@uconn.edu

Founded in 1992 as the Center for Voting and Democracy, FairVote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts research and advocacy for electoral reform in the United States. Goals include a national popular vote for president, universal voter registration, proportional representation, ranked choice voting (allowing voters to select candidates in order of preference), and other “common sense changes” aimed at making American democracy “fair, functional, and representative.” Since 1993, FairVote’s board of directors has included former U.S. congressman John B. Anderson (R-Illinois), who waged a respectable 1980 independent run for president. FairVote.org aims to inform and persuade visitors ranging from ordinary citizens to elected officials.

The user interface of FairVote.org evokes that of a splashy commercial website, with sticky headers, mobile responsive design, and elegant Bootstrap front-end framework. But splashy, image-heavy design does not necessarily create good user experience. Navigation is sometimes confusing because of thickly layered content, the absence of a single “View-All” feature for research materials, and poor searchability. Overall, the interface is attractive but overdesigned.

While FairVote generates little original scholarship, its website provides many lightweight datasets, data visualizations, and reports on topics such as runoffs in global presidential elections, gerrymandering and district competitiveness, and women’s under-representation in elected office. Most of the reports are attractively designed, consumer-friendly repackaging of pre-existing data from other sources. Reports, while nonpartisan, are by no means neutral, presenting information in order to support FairVote’s advocacy. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance conducts similar research.

While FairVote.org sorts its research by subject, it provides no metadata at all and thus delivers poor searchability. The website provides only a generic sitewide search box, and a search of the word “projects” returns only a blank page. The algorithm apparently overlooks an entire grouping of pages labeled “FairVote Projects.” Poor searchability reduces the site’s value to researchers.

As one of the Internet’s best-known resources on electoral reform, FairVote.org teaches visitors how common electoral practices can impede democracy. The site’s webmaster would be well advised to improve searchability and streamline navigation, but FairVote remains a valuable resource for journalists, activists, analysts, pundits, students, and concerned citizens.

Harvest Public Media. Access: http://harvestpublicmedia.org.

Ann Flower, Middlebury Institute of International Studies-Monterey, aflower@miis.edu

Based at public radio station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri, Harvest Public Media reports on “issues of food, fuel and field.” Their website features stories in print, audio, and video format. After startup funding from a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant, Harvest Public Media currently gets its support from partner radio stations and contributions. Using National Public Radio’s Code as a model, Harvest Public Media emphasizes credibility and unbiased reporting.

As a Local Journalism Center, Harvest Public Media features stories from a network of reporters based in the Midwest. The focus of most stories starts in that region, but most topics have broader national or international relevance. Stories covered in the “Food” category include production worker health and safety, environmental and economic issues, and cultural aspects of food and nutrition. “Fuel” features reporting on energy use in agricultural production and trends in the biofuel industry. The “Field” section encompasses farming practices.

The site encourages interaction through Facebook and Twitter, and solicits comments from readers. Users interested in additional levels of interaction may be interested in participating in the Public Insight Network by providing information and expertise to Harvest Public Media and American Public Media reporters. The Field Notes blog discusses pending stories and investigations. “Investigation” features background pieces authored by the organization’s investigative media editor.

With a clean design and simple navigation via top menu options or basic search, there are no hidden tricks to uncovering information. A rotating slide show draws the user to featured stories. Audio files require Adobe Flash Player and video content is hosted on YouTube. Many stories on the site feature slideshows and links to the audio version. Links within stories connect users to the sites of organizations, companies, and reports. Embedded maps highlight authors’ location. Links to related articles or “Recommended Reading” accompany stories, providing a jump-off for expanding on topics.

Though not an academic site, Harvest Public Media provides thought-provoking coverage of important issues in agricultural production and research. Students interested in agricultural sciences and food production will find much of interest here.

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