Maps > Words?

In class we discussed the topic of maps as journalism, looking into several maps and mapping tools online that share a story or information via maps rather than words. I think maps are an important tool journalists can use to show information, such as numbers or statistics, in an uncomplicated way. Since maps are visual, people can see all of the information at once and decipher it in their own way. Plus, they can be interactive, allowing viewers to participate in their own way, making it more engaging than just reading a news story.

One map that I thought wars really interesting and powerful to see was this map of the damage from the Japanese earthquake. Compiled from information from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs, this map is interactive, and allows viewers to see four categories: Dead or Missing, Buildings Destroyed, Photos and Nuclear Power Plants. Instead of presenting this information as a news story, I think putting it on a map is a good way for viewers to get a comprehensive grasp on the information. Areas are divided and marked by red circles varying in size, and when the mouse is run over these circles, the number of dead and missing persons comes up in a little pop-up box. I think it is really powerful to see just how many people died and are missing in each area, and the way the map displays this showing different geographic regions breaks it up for the audience and makes it a bit more understandable. Instead of just saying, “This is how many people died,” the map is a bit more personal, showing the regions that lost the most people and totaling how many people are still missing from that area.

Another map we looked at is the Recovery Status Map that details the business cycle across the U.S. States can be in one of four categories, marked by different colors: In Recession, At Risk, Recovering or Expanding. Thankfully, it seems that most states fall into the recovery zone (marked by blue). However, it’s a little scary and unsettling that my home state, New Jersey, is still in red (in recession). The category “at risk” worries me a little, as there quite a few states that are marked in orange, or the “at risk” color: Montana, Idaho, Utah, ect. However, the term “at risk” also confused me… what does that mean? So I clicked on Montana for more details: “Montana’s recovery has all but stalled as private sector hiring is elusive and housing remains weak. This soft patch is not unlike the slowing in the national economy and has not changed the contours of the forecast, however.”

My favorite site that we looked at that used maps was SeeClickFix.com, a participatory website that allows individuals to post problems, such as pot holes, fallen trees, or plowing issues (really, any issue they have with their town) on the site, in hopes that they will be seen, and taken into consideration by town officials (and eventually, hopefully, get fixed).  I really like the dynamic aspect of the site where individuals mark exactly where the problem is on the map, clearly identifying what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. That way, there is no question or confusion about how to fix the problem, it can (and should) be dealt with immediately. Here is one example of a problem in Weston, CT: A tree is ready to fall over a roadway. By posting this issue, lives could potentially be saved and a big problem could be avoided. However, when people start complaining about stupid things, this site can be abused.

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