Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Boston Globe-Year in Maps: How the Media Discovered Digital Geography

The Boston Globe published a review article on the "cartography boom" that seemed to capture the attention of readers and journalists in 2008. From the presidential elections to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the media used maps to better convey the story.

As Adena Schutzberg pointed out in All Points Blog, the author deserves credit for recognizing the plethora of maps used by the media and that this was a noteworthy story to cover. I think the author, Drake Bennett, both captured and missed key points. What he got right was that the maps helped to distill the enormous volume of data that pores into news rooms and for that, maps provide an essential tool. What he missed was the sense of urgency and immediacy that readers seek when a breaking news story hits, and that maps and satellite imagery put the reader on the ground. Readers feel much more connected to the story if they understand location and context. Readers may not have been familiar with Mumbai or that it had been called "Bombay" previously, but a map showing its location on the subcontinent quickly orients their perspective. The satellite images of the Taj and Oberoi Hotels bring the reader even closer and puts context to the story by positioning the venues with respect to the street network, focale points of each attack, and movements of the terrorists.

What we can not yet do is provide real time remotely sensed data. I'm not sure the readers and media are quite ready themselves but when reporters can not get close to the sceen, another media form will find its way into use: real-time satellite imagery. So, who will be the first to launch a real-time sensor and will the government allow it?

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