A little shy of midnight on a January night in 1945, someone shot Minneapolis muckraker Arthur Kasherman as he sat with a friend in his Oldsmobile. Firing several more times, the gunman pursued Kasherman as he climbed out of the car. Kasherman died at the scene, and the killer—whose name he seemed to have known—was never identified.
Now Minneapolis Star Tribune investigative reporter James Shiffer and multimedia freelancer McKenna Ewen have teamed up to tell the story of the slain journalist. Their project, “Rubbed Out,” has its own site, with a short video, print pieces, interactive maps, police reports, and even a poll inviting visitors to pick who they think is the killer.
The journalists partnered with the Star Tribune, which posted a story from Shiffer online and ran a print piece on Saturday about the murder.
We saw the project on the Online News Association’s Interactive Narratives site this week and called Ewen up to discuss it. “Rubbed Out” turns out to be part of Ewen’s senior thesis—he graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Minnesota. His resume lists internships with the Star Tribune and Bloomberg News, and he has recently launched his own company, Ewen Media.
Ewen described the project as an experiment:
Instead of telling people the story of Arthur Kasherman, we wanted to make it interactive. We wanted people to engage on the site, and we did that by presenting the information as we knew it. We still don’t know who actually killed Arthur Kasherman, but based on the information, we have a fairly good idea. What we wanted to do was to open it up and see what other people thought, and let them go through the same journalistic process that we went through—but with less noise.
Kasherman’s life and death make a compelling story—the killing was the third in a series targeting independent reporters, who sometimes went to jail themselves for their own dubious tactics. (Kasherman spent three years behind bars for blackmail.)
“Rubbed Out” reminds us of “L.A. Noir,” which ran in the Los Angeles Times in 2008. Both use music and images from the era to evoke a Raymond Chandler-meets-the-Mob atmosphere, but where the Times project was epic and tentacled, the Kasherman story is smaller and more focused.
The average time on the site thus far is a whopping eight minutes, which Ewen struggles to explain. “I have no idea how we got those numbers,” he said, “because I’ve done a few of these sites where we’re lucky if we can hit two.”
Ewen notes that in addition to working with the Star Tribune, creating their own site, and posting video to Vimeo and YouTube, they promoted the project on public television. “The idea is that it’s a really good story,” he says. “We want people to get it whatever way they want.”