The Washington Post

Faces of the Fallen, back in action

Faces of the Fallen, The Post’s photo gallery of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, is a feature popular among readers regardless of political persuasion. It re-appeared in print Wednesday for the first time since June.

The online version is also in the process of being updated, and photos and home towns of the troops killed are being uploaded as I write. It could be completed as early as tonight or tomorrow.

Post readers have been writing to me since July to ask what happened to the feature, which normally was being updated online twice a month. Lauren Keane, a digital innovations editor at The Post, said the software program that ran the feature was essentially broken and had to be completely rebuilt.

The program “had gone through so many quick-fix iterations, written by so many different people, over the five-plus years we'd been running it, that at one point it just sputtered and there was no longer an easy fix,” Keane said. “We build applications very differently now than we did back then; it needed a total rebuild to start working again and to be useful to our readers.”

The other obstacle, Keane said, has been a lack of “programmer-journalists to build and maintain the digital news applications that are becoming more and more central tools for telling stories and conveying information online.”

These programmers are separate from the design and Web folks who maintain the regular architecture of daily stories and photo galleries online. The programmers have a unique set of skills, and quality ones are hard to find. The constantly changing technology of newsrooms makes media companies more capable of relaying information in many different ways, but it also requires more people to do the information-technology wizardry that keeps Web sites innovative.

Both print and online versions of Faces of the Fallen were several months behind in reporting deaths, and Douglas Jehl, The Post’s foreign editor, said his goal is to get caught up in the newspaper by running two more two-page spreads of photos before the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, on Oct. 7.

The pages in Wednesday’s print edition, which appeared on pages A6 and A7, included 99 deaths from Feb. 7 through May 12. The online edition has been updated through most of May.

The interactive online version is particularly interesting because you can sort by a variety of criteria, including age, home town and branch of service.

The Post also regularly publishes in print a list of U.S. military personnel who have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan or related deployments. The most recent one ran in Sunday’s newspaper, on page A10.

According to The Post’s latest count, 4,480 U.S. troops have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 1,760 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) — a total of 6,240 Americans.


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