Map Quest: Mapping as a Valuable Tool For Journalists, Users

As journalist and NYU professor Jay Rosen advises, it’s time to refer to “readers” as “users” because they can use journalists’ work in combination with their own knowledge about particular subjects. Users are the primary reason why mapping is a valuable tool for journalists.

Modern mapping has changed quite a bit since 1492.

Mapping has proven to be a popular tool in political coverage. Take for example the election map from Google. The map shows each major Republican Presidential candidate and color codes each state to show delegate counts. Of course anyone could read these same statistics, but as visual journalism dictates, sometimes being able to see something makes it easier to comprehend.

Another great aspect of mapping is that it allows users to explore for themselves. The Worcester Sunday Telegram did an investigative piece on police log compliance and charted their findings on a map. By hovering over each county, users could see a specific description on the interaction at each police department. It would make sense that residents of Charlton would be more interested in results from their police department rather than Northboro, and with the map this configures the content for each user.

A lot is made of journalism contributing to the public good, and mapping certainly helps this cause. Boston.com’s pothole map allows citizens in the city to report potholes they encounter so they can be charted on a map. By publicizing the potholes, other drivers can be made aware and there is increased likelihood of the pothole being fixed by the city. Therefore, mapping helps contribute to the public good.

Journalism pundits are always preaching for the industry to be expanded by using visual aids and social media among other suggestions. Mapping is another tool in the arsenal for journalists to use. Words on a page or screen can only tell so much, and a great benefit of mapping is that it goes beyond the story.

The key to remember is that mapping in itself is not journalism, in the same way shooting random video is not journalism. Journalists have to remember that the map should present a topic relevant to users, is easy to understand or contributes to the public good. Only then does mapping become a journalistic tool.

Photo (cc) by paukrus and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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