Archives for posts with tag: new media

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!

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?

The Multimedia Journalism class is moving into chloropleths using Google Fusion Tables this week, but I’d like to encourage everybody to keep thinking of ways you can use Google Maps Engine to deliver useful info to online audiences. So here are a few interactive maps from the last few weeks that deserve your attention if you’re trying to get a handle on what you can do with Google Maps Engine:

  • Themed runs: Spingo.com has a nifty one that will help you locate color runs and other themed 5K and 10K runs.
  • Tracking the situation in Ukraine: Business New Europe tweeted about this interactive map of the state of play in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. It is apparently the work of James Miller and his crew at Dissected News.
  • Google Maps Gallery: CNET.com explains the purpose of Google Maps Gallery as a searchable gallery “full of interactive digital maps from a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations, such as National Geographic, World Bank Group, and the US Geological Survey.” 

If you’ve clicked on those links, it should be clear that your options for using Google Maps for features and hard news are practically limitless. Now get mapping!

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.

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