Archives for posts with tag: data visualization

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!

Google Maps Engine Lite is a great tool for building uncluttered, functional, interactive online maps if you don’t have a lot of artistic talent or technical skills. Here are a few things you can do with it:

  • Locator maps: Students in Multimedia Journalism this week will follow a step-by-step visual guide in class on how to create a geospatial data map of the top vote-getters in a poll by the Kansas City Star. Here’s what they’re aiming to create to prepare to make their own maps to post on their blogs; it might look familiar since I blogged about the Kansas City barbecue map yesterday:

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

  • Map routes: Robb Montgomery used Google Maps Engine to show how to get to an outdoor cinema in Berlin over a couple of different routes by searching for directions and drawing routes.
  • Layered geolocated data charts: You can import spreadsheets of data organized by location (e.g., state, county, other geographic boundary) in one column and data for each location in the second column. The result is a map with pins the reader can click on to see the data. The New Haven Register used this to map crimes in the city of New Haven, Conn.

That last option is not the easiest way for readers to visualize data if the info in question involves rankable rates or numbers by geographic region. If that’s what you have to work with, what you really want to make is a choropleth.

Don’t be afraid; that’s just a fancy name for a heat map, a way of presenting data that is color coded from most to least, best to worst, etc. Doing this can help readers visually recognize the rank order of each region.

To make a chloropleth, you need to use Google Fusion Tables, which I’ll blog about later this week. Google Fusion Tables can be used to create heat maps by merging a spreadsheet containing state-by-state (or county-by-county, or country-by-country, you get the idea) data with the geographic outlines of their corresponding geographic areas.

Made with Google Map Engine Pro

Made with Google Maps Engine Pro

The Kansas City Star recently ran the results of online poll asking where to find the best barbecue in the metro area. Only problem is, it didn’t tell where to find them. So I threw together a map using Google Maps Engine Pro while I prepared a step-by-step visual guide on making interactive maps for my multimedia journalism students.

I was pleased to see so many options I knew nothing about, despite my always being open to trying new ‘cue joints each time I’ve returned to see family and friends in the place where I grew up.

Locator maps were a staple of the infographics diet when I was a print journalist. Bar charts and fever graphs were also pretty typical. Illustration was seen as pretty exotic.

But locator maps were and continue to be important for mid-sized and large metro papers because city geography can be complicated, and we can’t always expect our readers to know much about neighborhoods far from their own.

At the same time, you can pack only so much into the space of a print graphic. And sadly, infographics were sometimes seen as “just one more thing to fit on the page.”

That shortsighted view was a symptom of a text-centric orientation of a “reporters’ newsroom.” Yet designers in more visually oriented newsrooms, like the ones where I learned the craft at the St. Cloud Times, Lawrence Journal-World, The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and the Santa Fe New Mexican, know photos and infographics are the reader’s gateway into the page.

We also know EyeTrack studies have shown information from infographics is more likely to be read, retained, and potentially acted upon. But you could only fit so much into the space of a print infographic since real estate on the printed page was at such a premium.

That’s why I love the new tactics of online data visualization, in which the first layer provides general information and orients the reader to the subject, giving them points to click to find deeper information. That’s the logic of the graphic generated with Google Maps Engine, which is easy for the reader to use and relatively simple for journalists to use to create content.

Unfortunately, WordPress.com does not make it easy to embed Google Maps Engine maps. Please, add your comment asking WordPress to add this functionality to this forum.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this sample of what Google Maps Engine can do: Kansas City barbecue: Star readers poll results.

Oh, and if you want to see something that might get your blood up AND show you how handy Google Fusion Tables can be for blending numerical and geographic data, here’s a map showing how each state compares in terms of combined state and local sales taxes. Alabama, which has a reputation as anti-tax, actually has one of the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the United States. That’s as I suspected, based on every time I’ve made a Costco run and been bitten by Montgomery’s sales tax, which combined with state tax is 10 percent.

I’ve settled back into the routine in Auburn now after spending three days conventioneering at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta. This will be a brief post since I have a ton of grading to return to, but these are my main takeaways:

  • The technological wonders never cease for info gatherers: From the fledgling journalism drone programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Missouri School of Journalism to wearable sensors, innovative means of gathering information are popping up at every turn. The next challenge is figuring out how news organizations can put them to use (as well as figuring out how to fight government efforts to curb our adoption of these technologies, which Matt Waite of Nebraska explained in detail at the Knight Village on the convention’s Midway).
  • Nor do the possibilities for sharing data visually: I came out of ONA13 with a renewed enthusiasm for the integration of visuals with data and in a fit of irrational exuberance, I signed up for Alberto Cairo’s current MOOC on infographics and data visualization out of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. I’m two weeks late into a four-week course, but he kindly assured me I didn’t need to worry about doing the homework since a lot of folks just sign up to see the course materials. I deeply appreciate his willingness to share since I’ll incorporate some of it into the multimedia journalism course I teach in the spring. This will give me a sense of best practices to apply to the stuff I learned last week about using TileMill and Google Fusion Tables for mapping data.
  • Collaboration is king: Journalists don’t have to be coders, and coders don’t have to be journalists. But it sure does help if we know each other’s language, values and guiding principles. I’ll be collaborating with a team of Auburn University coders and reporting students on a hackathon next month. Do I know code? Only in the most rudimentary way, though I’m learning more all the time. But I have done research about journalism and migration, which happens to be where the team needs expertise since that’s the subject of the hackathon. Right place, right time, right connections.
  • Journalists must master data or data will master them: The highlight of the convention for me was the Friday keynote address by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. His topic: Eight Cool Things Journalists Need to Know about Statistics. So many people live-tweeted about it at the event, myself included, that it made sense to make a Storify story about it. The link is below. I hope you enjoy it!
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