Archives for category: New media

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth have greeted this week’s Associated Press style change on when to abbreviate and when to spell out state names. Read on for a mnemonic inspired by the Beastie Boys.

The AP memo reads: “Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories. Datelines will continue to use abbreviations.”

Here’s my mnemonic: Spell out “Illinois” in the body of a story. But in datelines, captions and party affiliations, you’re still licensed to “Ill.”

Now if only there weren’t two kinds of state abbreviations to choose from. As long as we’re simplifying style rules, why not choose one kind of state abbreviation? We have “Ill.” unless you have a mailing address, in which case “IL” is required.

I’m not writing this to complain; I think AP’s rationale of seeking efficiency is laudable. AP style is always evolving. Maybe the next step will move further toward simplicity and uniformity of rules.

If we move to using just one set of state abbreviations (and I’m sure a lot of people would hate this because it just doesn’t look right), I’d opt for the postal abbreviation.

Why?

I confess my thinking is influenced by understanding how the Google Fusion Tables application works. It understands either spelled-out state names (Kansas, for instance) or two-letter, capitalized postal abbreviations (KS). “Kan.” does not exist to Google Fusion Tables.

If you try to import a spreadsheet with geocoded data and merge it with a KML file to create a heat map, you’ll get the geocoding equivalent of the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive not working again: You expect to lurch into the hyperspace of data visualization, but the result is a disappointing lack of heat map. Going postal might be ugly to look at, but what works, works.

UPDATED WITH MORE MAP LINKS

The Multimedia Journalism students are finding out how useful and straightforward Google Maps Engine is as an online storytelling tool. Each created a map of five places on a subject relevant to the topics of their blogs.

The maps are an interactive version of an old standby of static print infographics: the locator map. Locators have a simple ingredients list: Headline, chatter, base map, place labels, and descriptions accompanying each place label. The difference with Google Maps Engine is that you get the gift of interactivity: Users can see pointer boxes with names and descriptions pop up as they hover the cursor over a list of place names.

The five-place Google Maps assignment is appropriate as an introductory exercise in interactive mapping for beginning multimedia journalists for these reasons:

  • It challenges students to conceive of a piece they find interesting and (hopefully) that their readers will also find intriguing.
  • It requires that they do the kind of research that will be expected of them in the newsrooms that will hire them after graduation.
  • It gives them an opportunity to put to use what they learned in the step-by-step, in-class Google Maps tutorial, the Kansas City barbecue map. Hey, I’m a Kansas City boy, but some things translate well from the Midwest to the South, and barbecue is one of them. So we can almost all relate to the subject.

Here’s what the students cooked up this week:

Google Maps Engine is not hard to use, once you understand what it does and how it works. The technical questions are not difficult; the challenge, as I discovered when I sat in on the international hackathon session at Auburn University’s computer science program last fall, is figuring out a journalistic use for it.

Coders provide the conduit, and it is powerful work that they do. Journalists provide the ideas for content to flow through the conduit. Technical thinkers and journalistic thinkers complement each other. Especially now, we need each other.

I’m proud of how much my Multimedia Journalism students have built their technical skillsets while flexing their storytelling muscles these last 16 weeks. May they evangelize new media thinking in the newsrooms they join in the near future. They’re smart, they love storytelling, and they’ve demonstrated a capacity for problem solving and tenacity. Editors , directors and station managers, you need these young people. Hire them!

I hadn’t paid much attention to the New York Times‘ Times Insider features until I checked out NYTimes.com this morning over coffee. I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll be a regular. But the Times may not be getting maximum value out of its Story Behind the Story posts just yet.

The latest is on how Managing Editor Dean Baquet decided to play the death of Gabriel García Márquez, the master of magical realism who died this week at the age of 87. Baquet had to decide whether to run a straight obituary, which he had in hand already, or go with the culture editor’s recommendation to run an appraisal of the great Colombian novelist’s impact that was still being written at the time. Making decisions with incomplete information is part of the daily news editor’s routine.

One neat thing about the Times Insider articles is that they can draw attention to pieces readers may have overlooked earlier in the week. That said, why doesn’t the Times include links the articles discussed? Perhaps it was an oversight. Linking to them can give old stories fresh legs, encourage readers to join the conversation in the comments section, and perhaps give day-old stories fresh legs by encouraging online users to post links to them on Facebook and Twitter (or, to get a little meta, comment about them on our own blogs).

I’m glad Times Insider is providing this window into news decision making. Journalism teachers can use installments as tools to develop their students’ soft skills.

But about the price: I have to say that to me, the $10.25-per-week subscription price is a bit steep considering  you could buy four copies of the print edition for that. I’m not sure that I would get the same out of Insider as I do from four daily papers. I sure can’t see paying $500 a year for the premium edition. To me, that’s two car payments. But maybe that pricing isn’t designed for people like me. Who is the Times’ target market for this?

Still, If you’re a regular digital subscriber like me, the occasional Story Behind the Story post is available to you for nothing extra. That’s plenty for me.

It’s interactive data map time! This one’s a choropleth map charting each state’s combined state and local sales taxes for 2012. Data are from the Tax Foundation.*

The tutorial I developed for this data set for class today is based on the Mu Lin Multimedia Journalism Blog’s tutorial on Google Fusion Tables for beginners, in case you’re wondering where to start.

While I let Dr. Mu Lin’s post do the heavy lifting Tuesday, my contribution today was in guiding the class through some critical thinking about how to apply Fusion Tables, their understanding of how to interpret data, use color to create a clear visual order, and online usability.

How do you make sense of data by categorizing them? That question begets another: Am I trying to illustrate the range of a single set of data, such as population densities? Then using a range of greens or oranges or blues might be the way to go.

How do you select a color range that establishes a clear visual order? It’s a challenge to set aside our individual preferences and pick colors that help the data make sense. I love blues, greens and purples in art, but I have to set those preferences aside in favor of asking how to use colors to make outliers stand out or how to how to show gradual difference among related information.

How do you take advantage of interactive data mapping’s strengths vs. the limitations of static design for the print world? For instance, it might not be necessary to have the names of all states in a dynamic interactive map online because the name will appear in the popup box with data relevant to that state when the user clicks on it.
Of course, you also must ask how to make the map usable to everyone. People who have colorblindness have a right to read information online, too. I don’t know a lot about color blindness, beyond the fact that red-green is the most common form of it.

If you require guidance on such decisions, as I do, a site called Color Brewer 2: Advice for Cartography has an interactive color picker. You can select the number of categories, or “buckets,” you’re using, whether you need sequential, divergent or qualitative range of colors, and any special considerations such as publication for people with color blindness, for printing, or for photo copies.

Footnote
* I am aware of criticism of the Tax Foundation. Economist Paul Krugman has called it “not a reliable source” if you’ve done a little fact checking on its demand to lower American corporate taxes. Interpretation is one thing; which data are used is another, and the raw numbers look sound. What we’re doing here is exploring it from an angle that affects everyday Americans who make retail purchases for everyday needs: combined base state taxes when combined with the average local sales tax in each state.

Corporations get a lot of attention when it comes to taxation because their decisions affect a lot of people, and their money gives them media attention and access to power. Journalists need to watch out for the interest of those who lack these advantages. So that’s why we’re looking into sales taxes in each state.

One limitation of this data set is that it comes from 2012. Lots of cities in Alabama raised local sales taxes in 2013. That’s not reflected in this exercise. Anybody want to take on the task of creating an updated one?

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