Is Mapping a Form of Journalism or a Tool for Journalists to Use? How About Both.

After looking at different maps, which highlight different events or issues, I see mapping as both journalism and a tool for journalists to use.

Journalists can use maps as a tool to track natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, and plot things such power outages or flooding. If possible, from there they can go to the affected areas and try to write or report on a story.

For example, in 2007, Berkshire county in the United Kingdom experienced some major flooding that affected many people. The BBC took it upon themselves to create a Google map so that residents could submit videos and pictures of where and what they’re dealing with in regards to the flooding. To make it easy for residents affected by this event and for BBC correspondents, a webpage was also created in conjunction with the map. The webpage was more like a key for everyone to use. Blue markers represented photos that were sent in by residents, green markers were videos, red markers are reports from BBC correspondents and gold markers were emergency centers. If anyone had an issue with the map or if it needed some improvements, people could comment on the webpage or submit a question to the BBC. That was pretty neat.

The BBC did a good job with this map and it was an effective way to have residents participate and show how the flood affected them. In a way, it’s also journalism except it’s from average citizens. They’re telling a story by uploading videos and pictures. From there, reporters and correspondents can write a story based on material they received from people. This leads me into my next point of how mapping is journalism as well.

A good example of how mapping can be used for journalism is from the website Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan. One quick look at the website will show the reader a map of Afghanistan and red circles, which indicate an incident. This is a very user friendly website and people just have to click on a year to see where violence has occurred. It even has graphs to show the reader how many and what types of violence have been used against journalists every year in the country. The map also breaks down the total amount of violence that has occurred since the war began in 2001. From what I’ve seen, the region of Kabul has had the most acts of violence against journalists with 152 incidents out of 354. Now I was confused of what news organizations were dealing with violence, but it seems that they’re ones based in Afghanistan, such as Al-Jazeera.

I look at this map as a form of immediate storytelling. The stats give readers a quick story of what the website and maps are about. It also allows people to see what journalists are doing to show the world the hardships they face a war torn country. Media groups are basically endangering and, in some cases, sacrificing their reporters lives to report on oppression from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. A full blown 1,200 word story technically doesn’t have to be written here. Most people who view this site will get an idea and can form their own opinions of what they see.

Mapping isn’t the future of journalism by any means. However, it’s a good way to tell a story with a theme, pictures and video. If small blogs were added, then it would be even more interesting. What I like about maps is how interactive and informative they can be. For a visual person, they can show pictures and summarize information instead of it being an 800 word article. Who wants to always have to read long articles to know about an incident or event when they can see a video, or a picture, which summarizes what they’re looking for?

Putting a map together is also a good quick way to show what is happening during a disaster while reporters are trying to get into affected areas. For many media entities, access to Atlantic City, NJ or Long Island to get reports on the affects of Hurricane Sandy might not be possible. So to keep people updated, a news organization will use their webpage as a way to get coverage for something until a reporter can actually cover the incident.

This map here has important information for both citizens and journalists on how clean restaurants are in San Francisco and it gives them each a score based on cleanliness. While this map has all the crime stats in Boston for the past six months. Pretty interesting stuff for a journalist and a goldmine for stories.

Some downsides to mapping are quite obvious. While pictures and video tell stories, they don’t tell the whole story. To understand something, a journalist will have to talk to people and write a story that readers will understand. You can’t assume that people will understand what they see when they view a map and its features. Plus, there are always the people who aren’t media savvy and won’t know what to do when they see a giant map pop up with all kinds of icons. I’m not saying that some people are dumb for not understanding what they see, but the contents might not make sense to them.

Also, many elderly people don’t have computers or probably even know what journalism mapping is, so it’ll be foreign to them. Plus, if the electricity goes out or if wires are torn down, than using the internet might not be possible. Mapping also slows down a computer. On my computer the Boston Police stats map was very slow in loading and it took a while to navigate. They’re so interactive that on many computers they’ll slow down the processing rate and in some cases, freeze the computer in general. Everyone knows how fun a frozen computer is.

All in all, mapping is a good tool for journalists and an interactive form of journalism. It allows journalists to plot out a topic and keep track of events, while on the other hand it’s a good source of information as seen with the BPD crime stats and the cleanliness of San Francisco restaurants.



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