Archive for the ‘Newspaper Web Sites’ Category

The need for journalism

Last night, John Oliver used humor to make a point about the future of this industry.

A portion of his HBO program Last Week Tonight was devoted to a look at journalism, and the future of newspapers, amidst the decline of advertising revenue. In a near 20 minute segment, Oliver examined the case for journalism, through a monologue and a satirical skit of the film Spotlight, and how the direction of newspapers and other aspects of the industry will dictate how journalism is conducted moving forward.

Yet, his quote towards the end before the filmed skit resonated the biggest challenge for journalism yet, and what will happen to the industry down the road if nothing is done about it.

“Sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism or we are all going to pay for it,” Oliver said.

Oliver’s monologue about paying for journalism reflects a generational divide, a generation accustomed to paying for news through newspapers versus a generation, through the internet and social media, accustomed to getting content for free, and reluctant to pay for it, exacerbated in this social media age.

I am a part of that latter generation. I am a 24 year old who has access to an abundance of information no matter the circumstance — anytime, anywhere, all for the low, low price of $0.00.

It is worth investing in subscriptions to papers like The New York Times, for it will bring significant long-term benefits. (Photo: Haxorjoe/Wikimedia Commons)

It is worth investing in subscriptions to papers like The New York Times, for it will bring significant long-term benefits. (Photo: Haxorjoe/Wikimedia Commons)

Yet, compared to my peers, I am willing to invest in that content. Every day, a newspaper arrives at my house — The Wall Street Journal Monday through Saturday, and the Chicago Tribune on Sunday. But on the same token, I also look at sites that are either paywalled or have their content for free — from The Guardian to The New York Times, the BBC to Reuters and NPR, and periodically — The New Yorker. I also will find content linked either from Twitter or Facebook. I also have a digital subscription to the Journal that ties in with the newspaper subscription.

I read to stay informed of the world around me and to keep up with trends — I read the Journal, the Guardian and others because an informed and educated public is beneficial for our society, and for democracy, something journalism can give. It is something that I am not afraid to pay for.

Those in this industry enter it and seek work in it because we believe in the fundamental principles for which it is associated. We subscribe to its ideas and its values align with our own. We believe in the cause for an informed public and an enhanced civil discourse — that those in power must be held to account, that the work we do together can do the most good.

I believe in the role journalism has in our world, and the role information and education can have in making the lives of others better. I can’t imagine a circumstance where the world is bereft of journalism, which is why its worth supporting and paying for.

It is important for all of us to invest in journalism, for your investment now will result in a significant investment down the road, in the education and knowledge that comes from the pages, in print and online, about your world and your life. That alone has more benefits than seeing a video of a raccoon cat time and time again.

So, subscribe to journalism. Support my friends and colleagues who believe in making the world better, and invest in democracy. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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

News app: The Apple of journalism’s eye?

An Apple Store in New York. Apple is reported to be introducing paywall content on its News app. (Photo: Anthony22/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

An Apple Store in New York. Apple is reported to be introducing paywall content on its News app. (Photo: Anthony22/Wikimedia Commons/CC)

On the heals of a concerning report to investors on iPhone sales, Apple is said to be introducing subscription content through its News app.

The tech company, which introduced the app last June as part of the new iOS 9 software, is looking to continue its competition with Facebook and its Instant Articles initiative. According to a report from Reuters, the move from the company would allow news organizations to maintain a relationship with readers, as tech companies including Apple and Facebook would be the go-to between them.

As of data compiled last October, there are over 50 publishers that participate in Apple News, and the Reuters reports quotes readership of 40 million readers.

While this has not been officially confirmed by Apple, this will likely continue the ongoing competition for readers by tech companies trying to engage audiences, which includes Instant Articles as well as Moments, the curation feature introduced by Twitter late last year featuring content from news organizations including BuzzFeed and The Washington Post.

Yet, this would be different from what had been seen when initiatives like this had been introduced, as it allows news organizations and publishers the ability to maintain that relationship with audiences on the platform, as well as give them the ability to engage new readers, something organizations have long since advocated for. In addition, it may give cause for new publishers to sign on with Apple and allow their content to be distributed under the frame reported.

We’ll have to wait and see what is confirmed from Apple, but journalism could be the Apple of readers’ and news organizations’ eyes.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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

Tempted with fabrication? Write a novel.

Some say the cardinal sin of journalism is plagiarism, but me? I say it’s fabrication.

I won’t deny that plagiarism, even self-plagiarism, is stealing, deceptive, and unethical – but at least the information you swiped is true (unless the person you stole from is, in fact, a liar, which complicates matters even further).

In a journalism lecture this week, we watched the 2003 film “Shattered Glass,” a movie about the infamous journalist-gone-rogue Stephen Glass from The New Republic. Now, I hear, he’s attempted to reshape his life by becoming a fiction author (something he should have pursued in the first place) and trying to earn a law degree. Some guy.

Besides getting lost in Hayden Christensen’s eyes (Oh Anakin, you’re my only hope), I was struck by the nerve of Glass – befriending the newsroom, enticing every one of his colleagues into a web of lies, lies, lies – only to find out that he’d been making up stories all along.

And you bought that.

Which gets into a whole other ethical debate of fact-checking and the perils of speedy journalism. While, yes, the fact-checking system is setup to detect minor spelling errors and consistency mistakes, it’s not designed (nor should it be) for those who write with deceit.

But still, why cut out that vital defense between writer and reader? I’d argue that fact-checkers should be the last to go – not the first – from the newsroom. We’ve seen one too many times a reporter taking liberties, knowing full well that his or her writing will not be checked for error or valid fact.

The speed at which journalism has accelerated to can also become a temptation for those writing on a tight budget. If it’s just you and your keyboard – and an hour till deadline – who can stop you from fabricating quotes, people, and therefore truths?

Fabrication cuts right to the bone of journalism – the heart of the craft. Journalists pride themselves on being truth-seekers and will often sacrifice time, money, and sometimes even their lives to get a story out into our information age.

Those journalists who fabricate stories seemingly spit in the face of those battling fatigue, jail time, and exile for the sake of democratic free speech. Think about THAT the next time you’re tempted to insert fiction into your nut graf.

At the end of all this, if you’re still enticed by made-up stories? Become a novelist…just don’t be a journalist.

Bethany N. Bella is studying journalism, anthropology, and geography at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, 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.

Clickbait vs. Long-form: What Do Readers Want?

I hardly ever click through on ‘clickbait’ – but that’s just me.

Maybe it’s because I know the tactic well, having studied the art of a compelling, click-driven tweet in my journalism classes at Ohio University. Or maybe it’s because all these “9 things you never knew about leaving guacamole in the refrigerator” articles are starting to wear me down, as a news consumer.

Where are the stories that make me think? Where are the articles so long they blur the line between news and novella? Where is the journalism that’s journalism – and not cute GIFS of cats rolling around in confetti?

And I’m not the only one wondering.  

According to a recent article published on Re/Code – a fabulous, media-focused news source, I might add – Internet wanderers are starting to flock towards long-form, speciality content instead of the assumed clickbait publishers think we want.

A report from BuzzSumo, referenced in the article, claims that long-form articles (3,000–10,000 words) have a significantly higher share-rate than short-form articles (less than 1,000 words).

The author of the article, Joe Hyrkin (CEO of Issuu), also notes how the Internet has successfully fueled a “niche market” of information, where news consumers of varying age and interests find their own corner of the online world and like to linger there awhile.

“Clearly, vibrant subcultures are gaining major momentum online and offline,” Hyrkin writes. “The members of these communities crave content that is relevant, thoughtful and teaches them something new. They are hungry for content that dives deep and adds to their sophisticated knowledge base. For enthusiasts, ‘snackable’ is not enough.”

While, yes, I am one of those news consumers who prefers the long, in-depth review of a particular issue I’m interested in, I have a few hesitations about this “death of snackable content” claim.

Going back to the BuzzSumo survey: Since when did sharing clickbait prove whether you were reading clickbait? While posting a BuzzFeed quiz result is a nice addition to your Facebook feed every once in awhile, I’d wager that most people are selective about their clickbait share choices.

It looks more impressive to your audience or friend group if you share a thoughtful, long-form piece (even if you didn’t actually read it all the way through), instead of sharing every “Which Disney Princess Are You?” clickbait quiz you took.

And another observation, made by one of my brilliant journalism professors – and one I happen to agree with. Think of the motives of Hyrkin and why he might be making this argument about the death of clickbait content.

Issuu is an online magazine publisher’s platform, and magazine pieces are typically long-form features. Of course Hyrkin would be arguing (and hoping) for long-form content to be “in.” His company and livelihood depends on it!

Overall, I’m encouraged to hear that clickbait may be on the downward spiral, and niche, hobbyist-driven content may be on the rise. How refreshing would my Twitter feed be, without the constant threat of clickbait material, forever lurking in my timeline?

As the Internet redefines my generation’s “reading for pleasure,” I just hope it saves some long-form links for me.

Bethany N. Bella is studying journalism, anthropology, and geography at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, 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.

Transparency for All

I wake up anxious every day, just to find out what Obama will be doing in the afternoon.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Perhaps my enthusiasm for The New York Times Now newsletter has got me a little carried away.

The era of digital journalism is upon us, where we consumers can uncover the president’s whereabouts, the history of Pac Man, and the leaked merger of two media companies before their employees even hear of the negotiations –– all at the tap of a screen and the stroke of a thumb.

It seems that everything is and can be known, while nothing is secret or sacred for long.  With trust comes a yearning for greater transparency, a transparency that was once denied by all.

We have yet to experience an age of fluid, free-for-all information in America as we encounter today.

Those inspirational posters in elementary schools across the country speak at least one truth: knowledge, I’ve come to learn, is power.  The masses are no longer deposited in darkness, shackled from the bitter underbelly of reality.  We can touch the truth, the stories from the “other side” –– if only we so choose.

I never appreciated how journalists have truly become the gatekeepers of society’s information until I thought about President Obama and his endless, ever-changing agenda.  If I didn’t have the thorough research, wit and intellect of journalists at the Times, I’d have absolutely no concept of the events occurring in Washington D.C., let alone with whom the president was having lunch.  I’d be clueless and unawares in my small hometown of Ohio (a state that nobody ever cares about until election season starts).

You see, I’d know the high school choir and band rosters for next school year, the best price for blueberries from the local groceries, that the house across the street is for sale.  But I wouldn’t have any concept of the tragedies in Nepal, have read BuzzFeed’s bulletproof resumé advice, or know that John Kerry broke his leg in Europe earlier this week.

I’d be left in blissful, mind-numbing ignorance, but I’d be none the wiser.

I read articles, I follow journalists because there is always something more for me to gain.  I marvel at how I will never, ever stop learning in this life, so long as I choose to keep exploring.

Journalists pave the path for discovery, for intrigue, for curiosity.  We are forever indebted to their services, their tireless effort to share with us, the audience, another glimpse of the world beyond our front door.

So next time you share a story with a friend –– a story that took place beyond your ivory tower town –– pause, and retweet a journalist.  You only know so much as your fellow human beings let you know, so support the journalists who tire away for your attention.  They’re doing this for you.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Political Science and Environmental Studies at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, 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.

The New Mobile: News For the Next Gen

The art of storytelling and the consumption of news are both timeless human habits, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the journalist’s craft disappearing into the ether, just yet.

What journalists should be monitoring (and monitoring very closely) is the method of news consumption and how that news is translated to a mass audience on a day-to-day basis.

Before the printed word, oral declarations and one-to-one conversations were the only mediums for audiences to internalize the news.  And after newspapers and pamphlets came about, the print method didn’t last forever, either – it was overcome by online news and the proliferation of the Internet at the end of the last century.  Now, mobile is to web as web was once to print.

News organizations have been scrambling to jump aboard the mobile train, for fear of losing yet another audience population practically programmed to tap-tap-tap away on their smartphones all the livelong day.

But will the mobile fever last, or will it disintegrate before companies like Apple and Samsung have a chance to engineer smartphones large enough to comfortably read articles online, while also allowing for other mobile transactions like phone calls and text messaging to take place? (Is such an invention even humanly possible?)

I had an interesting conversation about this mobile trend with Meghan Louttit, a multimedia editor at The New York Times, this past week at the Online News Association at Ohio University student group meeting.

Meghan suggested that her peer group is actually taking this trend in reverse – that the print editions of books and newspapers have become a novelty item, a vintage collectible of sorts that shouldn’t be counted out of the market so soon.

I was genuinely surprised.  Who would have thought that millennials in their twenties and thirties are starting to subscribe to the Sunday Times, when they should (in theory) be exclusively devoted to digital updates and alerts?

Maybe this is a small trend that will eventually fade into the LED-screen sunset, but it was an interesting trend to consider, nonetheless. (I believe one of my journalism professors in attendance assured me that I would have to pry his Kindle away from his cold, dead hands).

I’d like to issue a response on this notion: Will print news make a rebound, or will mobile phones and tablets continue to issue a new wave of technological news consumption?  Are you a devoted Apple consumer (iPad, iPad Mini), or have you branched out with a Windows or Kindle Fire tablet?  Have you transitioned to reading the news only on your phone, or do you prefer reading articles on the web (or the old-fashioned print way)?  Does this method of consumption change when you read fiction?

Email me responses at or tweet them to me @bethanynbella.  I’m curious to know if I should (finally) invest in a tablet, and if so, which one.  Or should I stick it out and wait to subscribe to my local newspaper – when I start making an income of my own, that is.

I look forward to your replies.

Bethany N. Bella is studying at Strategic Communications and Environmental Political Science at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, 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.

Feedly takes big steps toward substituting for Google Reader

Feedly logoStill saddened by Google Reader’s pending demise? Well, feel better: an alternative is making big strides toward gathering the slack.

Feedly, an RSS provider seen as a top substitute to Google’s soon-to-die service, announced this week that it not only has a standalone version available for any Web browser, but that its cloud storage features are active and ready to use.

This is important because until recently Feedly depended on Google Reader’s backend infrastructure to pull content from websites and stream them to Feedly users. But after Google decided to shut down its own feed reader July 1, Feedly’s folks set to work on a substitute with similar infrastructure.

The result is a news aggregator allowing one-click migration of Google Reader content and transforming Feedly from RSS application to a full-fledged platform aggregator. This change alone moves Feedly to the top of the list among potential Reader substitutes.

RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a data format that lets users keep track of frequently updated Web content. For journalists, RSS affords an easy way to monitor numerous news services without having to click on each site individually and update them.

There are several providers available but Google Reader, unveiled in 2005, soon dominated. Then in March, Google said it would shut down Reader due to declining usage, though Google offered no details to prove that. Public outcry was such that a petition was started with hopes of changing Google’s mind.

Feedly currently provides instructions on its cloud portal how to install the revised aggregator and import Google Reader content. The company claims to have tripled its user total from 4 million to more than 12 million since Google’s announcement.

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.

Writeboard: A free web tool that makes it easy to collaborate on a project

Working on a project with another reporter in another part of the country or maybe on the other side of your city?  No need to get together at the coffee shop or exchange long emails. Check out

The writeboards are web based text documents that you can use when you’re collaborating on a journalism project with other reporters.   If you have to add more information or edit what you have; it’s all done in one place. 

Here’s the bonus; it’s free


Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning reporter with 29 years of experience.  Most of her years have been in television news, but now she is a multimedia freelance reporter based in Dallas, Texas.   She is currently a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

The Wayback Machine

Folks, allow me to introduce you to The Wayback Machine.

Now bookmark that site, because I guarantee you’ll want to go back.  Seriously. The Wayback Machine is an utterly amazing tool for investigative reporting. It’s basically a huge archive of old web pages that allows you turn back time and browse ze Internets like it’s Y2K….or 1998….or even 1996.

Just type in the URL of any website or page, hit enter, and you’ll be taken to an archived version of that website, so you can see what it looked like way back when.

A quick example: I recently visited The Wayback Machine and typed in – the website for the Society of Professional Journalists. A few moments later, the following list of dates popped up on my screen:

Those blue links are archived web pages that are available for viewing.

I clicked on the April 1997 link, and it brought me to the SPJ website….frozen in time, as it appeared over 13 years ago:

The Wayback Machine contains over 150 billion web pages, dating back to 1996. It’s great for doing research on companies, people, organizations….you name it. I’ve used it myself many times. Have you? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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


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