Archives for posts with tag: journalism values

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?

Change is not the new normal. Change has always been normal.  That applies to the ways we gather information, process it, disseminate it, and make sense of the information others have reported for us. Technologies change, and with them, so do we. That doesn’t mean we must betray our values as journalists. Journalism values endure.

Mike Szvetitz, sports editor for the Opelika-Auburn News and one of the news professionals who teaches in Auburn University’s journalism program, told the Auburn Society of Professional Journalists chapter tonight about his life as a sports journalist. He emphasized the enduring values of journalism, the need to be accurate and accountable, to report without fear or favor, and his belief that it is better to be second and right than first and wrong. Of course, he said, it’s best to be both first AND right. But you can’t have everything sometimes.

Szvetitz said these values hold up even amid rapid changes in the technologies of reporting and storytelling. It is vital for all reporters to be able to do multimedia reporting as well write stories for print. The demand for these competencies is a response to audience demand, and it’s a delicate balancing act.

Yes, he said, audiences still want long-form features. Yes, they want to hear sound bites from the players, at least to a degree. People will listen to as much of Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn as you put online, but not everybody is as interesting as he is. What online audiences really want, though, is to see what the quarterback looks like calling the play, taking the snap, fading back and passing the ball, and they will click on that 10-second clip again and again and again so they have ammunition with which to argue about the QB’s technique.

What’s going on with that? As I see it, the written report gives the audience knowledge and understanding and a good story. The multimedia clip gives them something to get involved with, something to get angry or overjoyed about, something to react to viscerally. Marshall McLuhan had it right when he wrote in the 1960s that these new media are extensions of the human nervous system that mimic the function of our senses.

New media inform us, they entertain us, and they can evoke emotional responses. They reach in through our eyes and ears and touch our emotions, conjuring joy, fear, jealousy, anger, compassion, satisfaction, and so on. The power of multimedia is the power to help us sense what it’s like to be where the news is, and to feel what the people in the story are feeling. What we feel in a story, we remember.

When multimedia and online systems emerged in newsrooms, many rank-and-file journalists regarded them as risky because they were unproven. There was no rulebook, and that was a problem to the risk-averse who had been steeped in a culture in which the best way to keep your job was to not risk surprising one’s editor and publisher. We’ve gotten over our aversion to this “new” medium after a decade and a half of dithering, and journalists are finally learning to love it. Perhaps we wouldn’t have dragged our feet if we just remembered that even if the field was different, we could still apply our journalism values to it.

The last great technological disruption before the Internet came from television, a risky medium in which Edward R. Murrow saw great potential. The previous great disruption came from radio, a medium Walter Cronkite embraced with gusto. Incidentally, why did he lose his job at KCMO-AM in Kansas City, Mo.? Journalism values. He was fired because he refused to follow his boss’s orders and air a story before he could check out the facts. He landed on his feet, joined United Press (which became UPI), became a star reporter during World War II, and was recruited to work for Murrow at CBS.

What does that historical antecedent teach the postmodern journalist? Though no rulebook exists for this newly invented game of online and multimedia journalism we now play, we can always fall back on principles and journalism values. In the long run, being right and second will serve you better than being first and wrong — regardless of the medium.

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