Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

Twitter Beyond the Tweet

It is hard to come by a story that isn’t somehow influenced by Twitter, supported by Twitter or started on Twitter. But Twitter is vast — there are more tweets being tweeted than one journalist can track successfully, but that doesn’t mean that Twitter can only be used to extract single tweets instead of whole pictures.

Millions of tweets are sent out during events — political, athletic, cultural — and those tweets can tell journalists what is resonating with people, what people are finding important and what they have opinions about. The Women’s World Cup final between the United States and Japan was one of the latest sporting events that garnered millions of tweets and international attention. In the U.S. it was the most watched sporting event all year. If a journalist truly wants to be able to use Twitter to tell a story there needs to be analysis and research to determine the key points and see what picture what actually emerges.

Twitter, along with companies using Twitter’s tweets, is doing the hard work for the journalists, and it would be a crime not utilize what they are producing. Even if the data and graphs that are being produced aren’t directly used in the stories, they may be used for inspiration that may spark a question, which leads to a new story idea and something is created just based on what people were tweeting about during an event. Twitter Data is the go-to place to find the data and maps about events, like the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and a Q&A President Obama did.

CARTODB used tweets from during the World Cup final and mapped them to show where people were tweeting about the game throughout the world. The map is on a timer, so it can be determined at what point during the East Coast was tweeting more than the West Coast in the U.S. or when more people were tweeting about the U.S. as opposed to Japan. One of the keys to telling a good story is having some visual element to accompany what is being talked about or what point is trying to be made, using tools like this is an excellent way to create a clearer picture for readers.

The more resources, like Twitter and Twitter Data, journalists use to tell their stories, the more informed the public can be. It is undeniable that people are interested in what is being tweeted about, so using tweets in a story is a almost a guaranteed way to garner interest — add in a visual and success even more likely. To write a complete story it is important to use as many resources as possible, the Internet is full of them, and what Twitter is doing is just one piece of the puzzle.

Taylor Barker, a member of the Ithaca College chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is the student representative for SPJ Digital. Barker is also an editorial intern for The Miss Information. You can follow her on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s unless otherwise indicated, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Get familiar with Google Maps Engine Lite

Google Maps Engine LiteIf you haven’t tried it yet, try it now: Google’s Maps Engine Lite.

The stripped-down version of Google’s corporate-level Maps Engine, Lite, still in beta, lets you get geospatial without cost or high-level mapping skill. Lite debuted in late March, but the latest good example of its use can be found in a recent blog post by multimedia consultant Robb Montgomery.

“It’s a great tool for learning to build maps with data, making tailored maps without a lot of clutter and for adding database information to location and routing maps,” he writes.

Montgomery’s example was a small map he drew to show a travel route through downtown Berlin. But Maps Engine Lite also allows users to download small spreadsheets and up to three data sets for a much more nuanced presentation.

As Montgomery demonstrates, for most journalists, Maps Engine Lite is a great tool for devising simple locators that can fit neatly and effortlessly inside news sites, blogs and mobile apps, and best of all it doesn’t require a degree in cartography to master. Start with the tutorial, which takes newbies step-by-step through their first map.


David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.


Digital Media Tools: One click away


As we near the SPJ convention in New Orleans; it’s a good time to remind you of all the digital media tools we have written about in the past year.   Just in case you’ve missed some of our past blogs, here is a list of topics we’ve covered.  

How to use Facebook in Journalism

Making Maps with UMappter 

Social media marketing tools for journalists

Getting started with quick, easy data visualization

Data Visualization and Infographic Sites to Bookmark

Build your website for free

Tablet or laptop? For some of us, the choice is obvious

Streamling your social media posting

Quora tries to answer all your questions

How to participate in a Twitter chat

Using Windows Movie Maker to edit audio clips

Google Charts Part 2 of 2: Motion charts

CuePrompter: No more memorizing scripts for your video blog

Digital media skills every young journalist needs 

Tools that help you get more from Twitter

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning freelance reporter in Dallas, TX. She is the vice chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee, and a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Fort Worth Chapter of SPJ.  She has 30 years of experience: television news, online news and video producing.  She can be contacted at

Making Maps with UMapper

Want to build a nice-looking interactive map, in a matter of minutes? Then check out UMapper.

UMapper is a flashy map-making application that’s easy on the eyes and very easy to use. You can even design your own geogames. Think of the fun you could have…

Emily Sweeney is a staff reporter at The Boston Globe and author of Boston Organized Crime . Follow her on Twitter: @emilysweeney

Getting started with quick, easy data visualizations

Charts, fever lines, maps and diagrams: They aren’t just for the Graphics Department anymore.

There once was a time when reporters dealt with words and someone else dealt with the numbers and the pictures. But not anymore. There are plenty of free, easy tools now to get any journalist, regardless of their word-centricity, started on data visualization all by themselves.

That means you can do you can do your own quick and easy data visualizations to go with your own online stories or blog posts.

My Digital Media Committee colleague Jodie Mozdzer, who is working on her masters in news infographics, recently blogged for us on some handy Web sites you can use to learn more about data visualization. With Jodie’s gracious permission, I’d like to pick up that thread and add some more.

If your newsroom is a small shop like mine, doing your own data visualizations is great because you don’t need your own dedicated graphics staff to turn out a professional-looking pie chart or fever chart. If you’re in a larger newsroom with its own graphics department, your (probably overworked) graphics staff may not be in a position to crank out a fever chart every time you want to do a quickie blog post about the new revenue projection numbers from the city finance department. But you can do a simple visualization all by yourself.

But this isn’t just about generating pictures to dress up your blog posts. As a reporter, doing your own simple data visualizations using free tools — especially earn on in the reporting process — allows you to spot interesting trends that you might not always see easily just by reviewing a spreadsheet full of numbers.

And, best of all, it prevents the situation that one former newspaper graphics guy complained to me about recently: The moment when a graphics guy/gal realizes that the reporter who’s writing a spot story about tax revenue projections going up has just handed over a spreadsheet of numbers that, when plotted on a chart, show the projections actually going down.

With free data visualization tools, reporters can draw their own quick-and-dirty graphics and make sure the squiggly lines really are going up, up, up, and not down, down, down before they make 17 phone calls asking the city council how the city should spend all that extra tax money.

We’re going to talk mostly about free, browser-based tools today.

For basic charts, fever lines, stock-price-type charts and old-fashioned pie charts, go to Google Docs. You’ll only need a free Google or Gmail account. Go into the Google Docs spreadsheet and type in or import your data.

Then, go to the icon in the toolbar that looks like miniature bar chart showing, say, your state budget’s spending on highway pothole repairs. Hit that button, and it’ll walk you through the steps of creating a chart with a custom title. You can then save that chart as a .jpg or .png image file and place it in your Web story or blog post like you would any other image you would use in your CMS. (Microsoft Excel will also create nice charts and has more customization features for charts than does Google Docs, so if you have Excel and know how to use it, you can try Excel. However, my older version of Excel won’t let me export a chart as a separate image file, so I use Google Docs anyhow.)

To compare the size of different things — relative size — try making a “bubble chart” using IBM’s free ManyEyes site. This generates a graphic that I see in the New York Times probably more than any other major news outlet site, one that looks like you’re looking at a glass jar full of marbles, with little marbles of various size and big “shooter” marbles mixed in. (For those of you who also read the SPJ Generation J blog: “Marbles” was a game children used to play before they invented Nintendo.)

Outcome of Chihuahuas at LA City Shelters in 2009 Many EyesHere’s an example: A ManyEyes visualization of the fates of chihauhuas brought in to a California animal shelter. Like Google Docs, ManyEyes allows you to save your graphic as an image file and then upload it to your CMS, which enables me to plop this chart right down in the middle of this post. (What is going on with the seven chihuahuas that escaped, by the way?)

But notice one thing: The data shown here regarding chihuahuas could also work just as well as a pie chart. I mean, we’re talking about one finite set of numbers — all the chihuahuas brought into a certain shelter in a certain year. So, the most crucial aspect to be visualized is what proportion of the whole wound up being adopted out, euthanized, escaped, etc. And that’s what pie charts generally show, proportions of the whole.

Let’s imagine a bubble chart that shows something that you couldn’t show with a pie chart. Say you wanted to show the amounts of emergency preparedness spending in the current fiscal year budgets for all the cities in your MSA.

You can’t show that very well in a pie chart, can you? I mean, there’s more than one pie, because there’s more than one city involved. But the size of the bubbles in the chart will help people see the sizes of the emergency preparedness budgets relative to one another.

From WikipediaScatterplot charts: I’ll be honest with you: There’s something about scatterplot charts that makes my head hurt. If you’re really needing to use a scatterplot chart, you’re probably an education reporter (or a former ed reporter having a post-traumatic stress disorder flashback to your last statewide standardized testing data-dump day). A statistically minded friend of mine tried to tell me not long ago that scatterplot charts are just fever charts with a really fuzzy fever line, which makes more sense to me than any other explanation I’ve ever heard. But if you’re in need of a scatterplot chart, ask yourself, “Am I still an education reporter?” If the answer is yes, both Google Docs spreadsheets and Google Fusion Tables will create scatterplot charts. If the answer is no, you probably do not need a scatterplot chart. You just need a stiff drink.

Wordles: We’ve all seen a Wordle: A computer program takes all the words in a given piece of text, analyzes them and diagrams which ones were repeated most often. This may not count as the purest form of “data” to visualize, but can sometimes be kind of entertaining, such as when people have dumped the text of gubernatorial “state of the state” speeches into the computer brain. You can also try some variants of Wordles like word trees through ManyEyes.Wordle: US Constitution

Maps: So much of what we do as journalists involves not just data but data tied to geography, which means creating maps is a good way to do data visualization — but there are several ways to make maps depending on just what you’re trying to show.

The simplest way to do a map online — a map showing one dot on it — is with Google Maps’ My Maps function. Are you the 6 a.m. cop shift reporter at your shop who’s assigned to update your home page with breaking news, and you get a report that an F-4 tornado has just destroyed all of downtown Snodgrass, Okla., including the World’s Largest Upright Vacuum Cleaner, which had been housed at the National Museum of Vacuums and Cleaning Appliances in Snodgrass, and you need to quickly get a map up online showing the location of Snodgrass? Go to Google Maps, search for Snodgrass, Okla., hit the “link” button in the upper-right corner to grab the embed code, and plop that code in your Web story.

Multiple points on a map: But it’s much easier to understand the power of maps when you see how easy it is to plot multiple pieces of information on a map. Back a few months ago, the school system here in Houston was considering closing some “small” schools — schools with the fewest students, said to be less-than-economical to operate — to save money. A colleague of mine mapped the location of all 60-plus schools that were in play for closure using another free site called Geocommons, which allows you to upload a data file of many map points and customize the information window text for each point. (You can see her map below.) You’ll first need to add a column to your data file that includes the latitude and longitude for each point (each school, in this case), and if you have a relatively small number of points, you can do that for free using sites like Batch Geocode. Geocommons is free and its maps are easily embeddable.

You can also map multiple points using Google Fusion Tables, which has the added benefit of built-in geocoding (to “geocode” something is to find the lat-long coordinates for it). A nonprofit online news site in North Carolina used Fusion Tables to produce a super-cool map of damage by a recent tornado in the Raleigh area, for instance (at right). Again, free and embeddable.

You can get as creative as you want with tricking out the info window text in these custom maps. Here’s a map I did a couple of years ago where we took just about all the information we could find online for all 181 Texas legislators and married it all to a Google Map. Yes, it did take a long time to pull all this together, but with the incredible improvements recently in services like Google Fusion Tables and Geocommons, it’s a lot easier to do a map like this today than it was when I did it in ‘09.

Lines or routes on a map: Need to show the six different cities the governor flew to on state aircraft to rendezvous with his mistress? Go to Google Maps and plot each trip using colored lines for each of the flights using the crooked line tool in the upper-left corner of the map window. Then save the map, grab the embed code and embed that sucker in your blog post or story.

Maps with shapes on them: Sometimes it’s not enough to show a point on a map, or even a line. You need to show the boundary of a county or the proposed lines for newly redrawn legislative districts or the jurisdiction of a municipal utility district.

The map people call these shapes  “polygons,” a word most of us haven’t used since high school geometry class, and it used to be, you’d need $2,500 worth of software like ArcGIS to do stuff like that.

Not anymore. Geocommons and Google Fusion Tables will both allow you to upload GIS “shapefiles” of city, county and other government boundaries — and you can often download those files directly from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site or get them from your local planning department. Just upload your map boundaries and tell it what color scheme to use. Here’s one I made not long ago that shows Houston’s 88 “superneighborhoods,” as defined by the city.

Comparing geographic areas: Need to show the difference in per capita incomes in each county in your MSA or state? I’ve always called these “heat maps” though I think the formal name is “chloropleth map.” Just like Geocommons and Google Fusion Tables will both let you upload shapefiles, they will also enable you to shade the polygons to show data characterisitics for those areas — the redder the red, the higher the per capita income in that county, for instance. Or, the bluer the blue, the more kids living in that Census tract who live at or below the poverty line. Just upload your map boundaries, upload your data, and tell it what color scheme to use. Here’s one (below) from ManyEyes, showing the number of youth homicides in the states of Brazil.

Homicidios de Jovens por Estado - 1998 a 2008 (Mapa) Many Eyes

Again, not only is this a good way for readers to take in a whole lot of information easily, it’s a good way for you as a reporter to quickly spot trends that could make good stories. For instance, here’s a map (below) plotting county-by-county Census data. For instance, notice the counties with the high numbers of small kids in, say, several counties in Utah. Why? Might make a good story. In the very southernmost tip of Texas? What’s up with that? And a baby boom in western South Dakota?

Before I sign off, let me add to Jodie’s list of good sites to bookmark if you want to see cool data visualizations. My Facebook friend and former competitor Matt Stiles, late of the Texas Tribune but now of NPR, has a Tumblr blog on data visualization called the Daily Viz. I found the Census data map through his site, so check it out.

Jennifer Peebles is a deputy editor at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online news site based in Houston, and is chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee. A truncated version of this blog post appeared in the most recent issue of SPJ’s Quill magazine. Contact her at, 281-656-1681 or on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.

SPJ’s Digital Media Handbook, Part 2, is here

You’ve been waiting, and here it is! It’s the SPJ Digital Media Handbook, Part 2. Check it out and find more digital media tools that you can use to make your journalism stronger and better. No more staring at web tools and wondering how to use them. We’re giving you the “how to’s” right here.

Our first Digital Media Handbook has been read nearly 13,000 times on We’re giving this book to you for free. All we ask is that you share the link with other journalists.

Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook, Part II

Keep learning with Scribd

As the 2009-2010 SPJs’ Digital Media Committee year comes to a close we are hard at work putting together Part II of The SPJ Digital Media Handbook. Many of our loyal readers have written in asking when the next section will be published. Our goal is to have Part II available before the SPJ 2010 Convention in Las Vegas.

As an homage to Scribd for housing our content and making it accessible to journalists around the globe, I thought I might recommend some other incredible resources that can be found for FREE on Scribd.

The Future Journalist, by Sree Sreenivasan and Vadim Lavrusik (posted by Scribd user api_user_5814_user82644)
Sree and Vadim explain why it’s critical that journalists learn to think digitally and why it’s important to have a strong grasp of how to use digital media tools BEFORE news breaks.

33 Sites Every Journalist Should Know, by Jeremy Caplan (posted by Scrib user silverboat, Jeremy)
Jeremy Caplan’s 3 part series handout has a great selection of sites that will help you distribute and publish your content.

Twitter, by Claire Wardle (posted by Scribd user cward1e, Dr. Claire Wardle)
Wardle takes you step by step on how to use Twitter, in case you don’t already know how. More importantly, she shows how journalists can use Twitter as a tool for reporting, in case you still need convincing (or know someone that does).

Google Guide making search even easier, by Nancy Blachman (posted by Scribd user rumisprite, Nancy A. Henry)
Learn how to perform a Patent Search, get Flight Tracking Information, set up Google Alerts…her document is so chock full of information on using the Google search engine that it’s exhausting. You’ll need to set aside a few hours to get through it all. Really.

Google Search tips for journalists, by David Paulson (posted by Scribd user Hastimal Shah)
A lighter alternative to the aforementioned document.  (Don’t forget that Google will be giving a presentation at the SPJ 2010 Convention – here was our recap of the Google 101 event in Chicago – Google 101 for Journalists: A Review)

Find any other must-reads for journalists on Scribd? Leave a link in the comment section below.

Hilary Fosdal is the associate new media editor at the Law Bulletin Publishing Company located in Chicago, Illinois. You can visit her site and follow her on Twitter @hilaryfosdal.

Hyperlocal Journalism: Inside the Patch

UPDATED (Sept. 13): A Patch recruiter will be attending

UPDATED (Sept. 8): Patch panel announced: Sherry Skalko, Holly Edgell, George Slefo

UPDATED (Sept. 3): Panel moderator announced: Fernando Diaz

WHAT: The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Committee is proud to present an evening of exploration into the much talked about topic of “hyperlocal journalism.”

To give you an idea of the topics that will be discussed, here are a few questions that the panelists will be asked:

  • How do you make money selling local news?
  • What is a day in the life of a Patch reporter like? What about the editor(s)?
  • What content on Patch sites is being consumed the most?
  • What, if any, multimedia skill sets is Patch looking for when they hire reporters?

The end of the evening will be Q&A with questions from the audience. Questions via Twitter and e-mail are encouraged for those individuals who cannot attend in person. Send your questions to or use the hashtag #spjpatch

SPJ + Patch



Sherry Skalko – Editorial Director, Midwest Region for Patch
Holly Edgell – Regional Editor, St Louis for Patch
George Slefo – Local Editor, Skokie for Patch

Fernando Diaz, managing editor of Hoy Chicago, will be our panel moderator.

WHERE: Illinois Technology Association
200 South Wacker Drive
15th floor
Chicago, IL 60606

WHEN: Friday, September 24th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

LIMITED SPACE: The Illinois Technology Association has generously donated the space for our event. However, seating is limited and registration closes two days before the event. Tickets are FREE! Please bring your ticket with a valid form of ID in order to be admitted into the building.

Get your tickets now –

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Journalist, citizen journalists, hackers, programmers, professors

What is PATCH? (in their own words):

“We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.” Read more…

Free chart creation with

Creating and publishing interactive charts no longer requires expensive software.

Forget about building simple line graphs. Using you can create any number of visual charts to display your data online.

Here are a few examples of the types of charts you can make using

Using does not require registration and is free.

Every chart you build can be published, shared and embedded on your website or blog.

Data for your chart can be entered manually or inputted using an excel spreadsheet via the ‘import’ feature.

You can also adjust the size of the chart you create to fit your site.

Before you publish your Chartle you’ll be asked to give it a

? Title

? Author

? Description

Click here to view an example of this interactive chart.

Need to make a modification to your chart? You can create a new chart using the data stored in a currently published chart.

Hilary Fosdal is the Interactive Content Manager for Barrington Broadcasting Group. She blogs at and tweets @hilaryfosdal.

7 Social Media Tools for Journalists

Sree Sreenivasan is dean of student affairs at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, a social networking whiz, and an all-around cool guy. He recently stopped by The Boston Globe to talk to reporters and editors about the joys of Twitter and how to tweet efficiently and effectively. He showed us some handy Twitter-related tools that journos can use to locate sources, find story ideas, and get more people to check out your work. Here’s a quick sampling:

1.) HootSuite – web-based service allows you to track tweets, manage several Twitter accounts at the same time, and schedule when your tweets will be posted (so you can tweet into the future)

2.) Twiangulate – Find out who the people you follow are following. Great way to discover new sources.

3.) FriendorFollow – Find out who’s following you back (and who isn’t)

4.) Twitcam – Live video streaming. Looking forward to trying this – sounds really cool.

5.) Twitpic – I use this service. Easy way to share photos and images.

6.) – Find trending topics.

7.) – Search tweets by location. Another site worth checking out is Trendsmap, which lets you view trending topics in any location, in real-time.

For more tools and tips, check out Sree’s Social Media Tipsheet and his Twitter Guide for Newbies & Skeptics.

…and YO – a word to the wise!  As you probably know, there are zillions of Twitter apps, tools and services floating around out there, and new ones are being created every day. Many of them require that you type in your Twitter username and password to use them. So be careful! Don’t hand over your Twitter housekeys without doing some due diligence first.  Before you type in your Twitter account information and password into any website, make sure it has a solid rep and has been reviewed by some reliable media experts (like Sree, or the good folks here on SPJ’s Digital Media Committee 🙂


Emily “Spikey Em” Sweeney is a staff reporter at The Boston Globe. You can follow her on Twitter (@emilysweeney) and find her on LinkedIn, among other places.


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ