Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Debt Debate - If you are keeping score at home...

If you are interested in a regional understanding of how the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives is going with respect to the debt crisis, the New York Times is mapping the votes by house member. The Times provides a list of recent bills debated by the House and selecting any of them will display a map by district of how the votes were cast.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Geography and Journalism

The session for news media at the EsriUC was easy to miss because it was on Sunday associated with the Business Summit. But it's importance is tied to how geospatial information and technology enters an era of mainstream adoption.

Two excellent presentations focused on not only how maps bring context to stories but when maps "serve as the central vehicle to create a narrative," as described by Roberto Suro, professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Managing Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab.

Suro asked, "How do we recover the sense of narrative in an era of data overload? How, as a content creator, do we reestablish the authority of a story teller." Suro discussed where maps and visualization can foster a different journalistic technique. "What do you have to have to make a map tell a story? You have to start with the centrality of place. The "where" is the focal point around which the other elements circle, said Suro.

He mentioned how the most common narrative structure is chronological and how there are a lot of stories that combine chronology with geography. But to make maps more central to the narrative involves a small change in perspective. "The basic mechanical function is different [which is the] geotagging elements of information … and telling a narrative completely through maps," he said.

Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska's College of Journalism and Mass Communications, and a Pulitzer Prize winner during his time at the St. Petersburg Times for his creation of PolitiFact.com, a fact-checking website that tracks what politicians are saying. Wait took today's publishers to task for using the same "byzantine" production model that's been in use for decades. "If we mess with this thing we are messing with the most foundational thing that we do ... Digital production is very flexible - publishers don't like to hear this," said Waite.

Waite said that, "We are creating a news database augmented by all sorts of data; there are subjects that we can connect to with a complete set of links. Rules can be broken."

He gave an example of how certain stories dealing with crime have certain structured data like addresses or historical crime information, that is, a geographic context. "You start to add these pieces of greater context and it becomes much more than a story; it is context; it is data. When you start to see news as part of a greater whole," said Waite.

Since, as a publisher of a geospatial magazine, we see the technology side of stories and often little about context. In our application articles we like maps to tell a story too. That's what we do as geographers. We tell a story. It may not be a news story like in newspapers or magazine, but maps communicate in a way that tabular information can not. And isn't that the story of GIS?

[Originally published at apb.directionsmag.com]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Want to Catch the World Cup at your Local Bar? Better Know Which Flag they are Flying

Looking for camaraderie and perhaps quaffing a few brews during the FIFA World Cup matches? You better know which way the local patrons are leaning before sending out a "whoop" and "holler" during a game. Well now the New York Times can help you find just the right establishment with an interactive map that shows you the local allegiances. Jack Dempsey's on West 33rd is obviously a U.S. hang out but Barolo's on West Broadway is going for the Italians. The Time's map shows that Plein Sud, also on West Broadway, has both French and U.S. leanings. Would you like American or French fries with that burger?

Monday, June 7, 2010

As Fall Elections Approach Publications Ramp Up Interactive Maps

The New York Times has published a map of the fall senate, house and gubernatorial races from around the U.S. The interesting thing this time around will be what each publication has learned since the 2008 elections in using technology to display information geospatially. Flash technology was certainly preferred last time. My guess is we'll see lots of Flash and Flex this time around. The biggest challenge? Making sure each publication draws the House Congressional district boundaries correctly. What a nightmare! Just looking at the irregular shapes of each district is perplexing. Makes you wonder about the political "fist fights" that must arise out of gerrymandering these boundaries. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Job Losses in New York City Documented by Subway Ridership Map

The New York Times has created an interactive map showing the gains or losses in subway ridership over the past year. The maps shows a graduated symbol on each subway stop and provides a tool tip indicating the stop, the increase or decrease in ridership and the number of average daily riders. Most striking, as pointed out in the article, is how you can map the areas hit hardest by the economic recession. It should serve as an invaluable tool for the NYC transportation authority as well as urban planners. But, unfortunately, it displays the tragic effects of a job losses and the potential impact upon the individual local economy around each subway stop.

Chinese Investments in Raw Materials Mapped by Forbes.com

Forbes.com created a graduated symbol map (see thumbnail at right) of the investments that the Chinese have made in various raw material sectors such as energy, minerals, and transportation. The interactive map illustrates:
  1. the accelerated growth in the number of investments made over the past five years
  2. the size of each investment
  3. the industry sector
Tool tips appear as you hover the cursor over each symbol that shows:
  1. the investor
  2. the amount of the investment
  3. when the investment was made
  4. the industry sector
What is striking about the portrayal of the data is not the size so much as the rapidity with which the investments have been made over just the last two years. If you watch the animated sequence, you will see how many of the investments were accomplished just recently.

The feeding frenzy for raw materials is what is driving infrastructure growth throughout the Mainland.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

West Virginia Coal Mine Explosion: Mine Maps Offer Challenges to Average Reader

The New York Times published both a 2D map and 3D topographic perspective map of the coal mine disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia where 25 miners were killed. Maps should provide some context and while the Times does a good job of showing the basic location of the disaster, they ignored a few cartographic principals. First, the 2D map has an inset map to give the reader the general location of the disaster. Unfortunately, the boundary shown in the inset map does not match the boundary of the mine area on the 2D map itself so it's hard to correlate the two maps. Second, the 3D map shows the topography and a satellite image overlay depicting the surface of the mine as well as a map of the subsurface mine layout. However, the mine layout boundary should be projected onto the 3D topographic map so that the reader understands the surface extents.

Over on USA Today, their map is solely to locate the mine with a "pin." They do not offer supporting maps of the subsurface area although they do have diagrams of how coal is mined at this particular mine.

Depicting the subsurface for the average reader is difficult because of the need to project the layout in 2D and no reference point exists whereby you can relate it to anything on the surface. The subsurface has just as much topographic relief as the surface but we're not used to understanding underground topography as anyone who's ever been in a cave can attest.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Telegraph's Map Shows Political Battlegrounds in Upcoming UK General Election

The Telegraph has developed a unique thematic map that displays the political landscape for the upcoming general election in the UK. Each constituency is displayed as a single hexagon and color-coded according to the predominant party results from the 2005 election. It is an unusual way of thematically mapping political tendencies since it totally removes any inherent political and geographic boundaries that might otherwise confine an interpretation of the spatial underpinnings. Selecting any single hexagon will review the voting results as well as some selective stats on crime, health and education.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

USA Today/USGS Maps of Chilean Earthquake Aftershocks Use Thematics Improperly

The map of aftershocks from the Chilean earthquake last week reveals the incredible number of strong quakes that continue to jolt the region. Unfortunately, maps produced by the USGS and picked up by USA Today are inappropriately thematicized. The map shows the location of aftershocks marked by large circular symbols that are color-coded according to their most recent occurrence. Those that have been felt within the last hour are red; within the last day are orange; and those within the last week are yellow. It is a totally confusing way to map mainly because the idea should be to recognize both the location and severity. As they are portrayed, the symbols are all the same size and completely obscure most of the information.

Here's my suggestion: Keep the color-coding but use a graduated symbol to represent the aftershock's magnitude. this would help cut down on what is now a very cluttered map. And it would have been a nice addition if it showed the major fault lines as well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New York Times Map of Chilean Earthquake Area Highly Confusing

Where to start? The New York Times badly bungled the map showing the region devastated by the massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile late last week. The Times shows two maps, side-by-side, as an illustration of the region that felt the most impact of the temblor. The map on the left has region names declared disaster areas and their political boundary. The right hand map shows the region of severe shaking. The map on the right is NOT an inset map but that's the assumption I made. As I look at the map, the shake boundaries are delineated giving the reader the impression that this is an enlarged view of the left hand map. Looking closely, you can see that the shake area does not extend to the country's eastern border with Argentina. However, you would misinterpret the east boundary of the shake area as the border because of the delineation. In fact, a "shake" area should be graphically portrayed as a "heat map" with graduations of severity by color. The fact that a boundary is used misrepresents the geological impact of the quake. In addition, the Times added population data per square mile and for that they used a density (dot density?) map that could have been misinterpreted for map of shake severity. The smaller inset map in the right hand map just serves to further confuse the reader.

Usually, the New York Times has excellent cartographic quality to support their news stories. This time they tried to do too much at the same time and did not use the correct thematic map symbology to support their data.