Archives for posts with tag: News

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?

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.

I was an assistant news editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 11, 2001. The experiences of victims, firefighters, police, soldiers, sailors and airmen are the first things most people think of when 9/11 is mentioned. Their sacrifices were the most heroic acts and tragic losses of that terrible day. But journalists also had a role: helping communities stricken by fear, sadness, confusion and grief understand what had just happened. This is how the day unfolded in our newsroom after New York and Washington were attacked and a second attempt to strike D.C. again was foiled over Pennsylvania.

Santa Fe is in the Mountain Time Zone, two hours behind the East Coast. Attacks that happened between 8:45 and 9:03 a.m. in New York occurred between 6:45 and 7:03 a.m. our time. I had worked the night shift on Monday night, got off work at 1 a.m. and went to bed at 1:30 a.m. My work week ran Thursday through Monday with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. My Tuesday routine was to roll out of bed at 9 after seven and a half hours of sleep and head to the Spanish class I was taking at Santa Fe Community College.

About 8 a.m., the phone rang and my boss told me the news: A plane had struck the World Trade Center. The nation might be under attack. We’re putting out a special noon edition. We need you to come in and help produce it. I called my prof to let him know I would miss my morning class and probably my lab section in the afternoon. He said he understood.

My groggy mind quickly filled with questions: A plane? What kind of plane? A military plane? A civilian plane? Was it an accident? Was anyone hurt? How many? Was it intentional? How big was the plane? If it was civilian, was it a commuter jet? A small private plane? A jetliner? How many people are in the building? What time is it there? Does the time of day mean there might have been fewer people?

If it was intentional, who attacked us? Why did they do it?

A newsroom, like an army, lives on its stomach. When I got in to work, the top editors had ordered breakfast and coffee for the crew. The morning news meeting convened at 9 a.m. The goal was to have a four-page special edition on the press by noon. That was three hours to produce four wide-open pages.

City desk sent eight reporters out to get local reaction as soon as the bulletin came over the Associated Press wire that terrorism was suspected. We had a local story in the works about whether Santa Fe was prepared to deal with a terror attack. The business editor monitored the markets to see how they would react. On the copy and design desk, another editor and I sifted stories as they came in over the wires. It was so hard to keep up with it because AP was sending everything in adds. “Adds” are sections of a developing story that are sent out piece by piece, sometimes three or four paragraphs at a time, sometimes one or two paragraphs at a time, sometimes just a sentence. That day, almost all of the adds came one sentence at a time.

At one point, AP didn’t know where President Bush was. He was rumored to be in danger.

Soon came word that the Federal Aviation Administration had cleared the skies and any private plane that did not respond would be shot down.

About 10 a.m., the first shocked first-person stories rolled in over the wires. People were holding hands jumping out windows at the World Trade Center. Firefighters asked why they got to live when some of their brothers died inside when the towers collapsed.

About 11 a.m., we debated which photo to put on the front page. One of the photo editors said we should run a picture of the smoking World Trade Center that showed people falling to the ground because that was the news, that was what happened, that was reality and we shouldn’t shield people from it. In the end, we agreed that a photo showing people running away from the base of the towers illustrated the fear and the scale of the attack without being distasteful.

About 11:15, the local stories started coming through. We assigned two copy editors to read each one simultaneously – one on the computer and one on a printout. After they finished, they conferred to make sure they had caught every error, clarified confusing points, and had the latest information. The reporters stood by to answer questions about content as the editors tabbed through word by word and scrolled down line by line.

While that happened, the city editor, managing editor, an assistant editor and the front-page designer conferred about story play on the front page. This normally would have taken place four or five hours before deadline when we had a good idea of what each of the stories would be. Time was not a luxury we had that morning. We only knew exactly what we were going to put in the paper 45 minutes before deadline.

My role at that point was copy desk chief. Another senior editor and I split the stories as they came in and gave them a final read before sending them to the designer to put on the page. We had already filled two pages. The content we read at that point would go on the front page and the jump page. As we read all the stories, we wrote “refers,” sometimes called teases, to put in a box on the front pointing readers to other stories inside.

It was hectic. We made deadline. Then I went to class.

Santa Fe has a special connection to New York. They’re both major American art markets. Lots of New Yorkers have second homes in Santa Fe. Lots of my classmates had family and friends in New York. None worked in the World Trade Center, but some lived nearby. They feared for their loved ones. Nothing made sense.

So my professor turned the class over to me, and I delivered the news I knew. The questions kept coming from my classmates, just as the questions bubbled up when I first heard the news. I could tell them the facts. I could tell them which rumors were unfounded — and there were many. I just couldn’t tell them what it meant and what would happen. “What does this mean?” and “What now?” were particularly urgent questions. It was frustrating to not know the answers.

It was such a whirlwind that morning, I wasn’t sure what good we had done because there were so many unanswered questions. Over the next couple of days, we speculated — in the gallows humor style that journalists use when we’re really scared or shocked or angry or sad but hope to mask it — what anyone might attack in Santa Fe. The one thing we could think of was St. Francis Cathedral, which I actually thought would never be on the radar of a foreign power or a terrorist seeking to strike fear into our hearts. We thought maybe there would be small bomb-vest attacks in a shopping mall or other shopping centers elsewhere. But there was no possibility that could ever happen since we were so far out of the way and the terror value just wouldn’t be that big. Right?

Then I remembered that Los Alamos National Laboratory, with all its nuclear research materials, was just 45 minutes away. My blood ran cold.

I have told this story to my reporting and editing students the last couple of years. I tell them the skills we build together will give them the ability to react to the news instantly and efficiently. That all the experience they can get in their young careers will make it easier to cope in chaotic times in the newsroom. That mastery of AP style and grammar and punctuation are the “small ball” skills that you need to make automatic so you don’t have to even think about them on deadline when big news happens.

I tell students my experience of 9/11 this time of year to give them a slice of a working journalist’s reality and to show them what role we play in times of crisis. I just hope their cohort of journalists, with an array of digital and new media tools and social media and multimedia storytelling skills at their disposal, will be more tenacious than mine at asking questions about how our nation uses its might and about the wisdom of the decisions our leaders make. I urge them to be more vigilant than we in the aftermath of September 11. I pray they will be wiser.

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