Teaching Examples

Interactive graphic: Wealth calculator
June 11, 2007, 11:48 am
Filed under: data, graphics, interactive, journalism

I don’t use the word “interactive” carelessly. (Most things that people typically call interactive are not one bit interactive. Video games are interactive. Newspaper Web sites? Not!)

Wealth Calculator from The New York Times
With all the journalists chattering about Adrian Holovaty these days, some are feeling that they must transform themselves into programmers to compete in the 21st century. I’m not convinced that we need to clone Adrian (although having more like him couldn’t hurt).

I offer you this example as a starting point for 21st century thinking about journalism: The New York Times’s Interactive Wealth Calculator. (Adrian was not involved!)

The “programmer” is only one part of this excellent production.

The database design is vital to its success. Not all “programmers” know how to design a database properly. Many database designers would not know how to program this for the Web. (I have learned a lot from the non-software-specific book Database Design for Mere Mortals.)

The graphic design — the interaction design — make this project usable, clear, and fun to play with. Note too that the accuracy of the project depends on having a well-trained graphic designer — and not just someone who knows how to “make a Web page” or “animate in Flash.” If this concept is new to you, go to the library and check out Edward Tufte’s classic book Envisioning Information (or buy it).

The journalism know-how makes it accurate and reliable (click the Source Information link at bottom left in the graphic). Go ahead, try sending your programmer out to bring back reliable, up-to-date population statistics. I dare you! (See Mark Hartnett’s take on this. Matt Waite shows us how to tackle a mapping challenge.)

When Adrian designed and produced his famous Chicagocrime.org site, he collaborated with a skilled and talented Web designer, Wilson Miner, to make the thing work visually.

In my experience, far too many editors, publishers, news directors — and even trainers and educators — fail to understand the roles and skill sets that are part of the production of a real interactive journalism project.

All this fussing about “programmers” won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have savvy, professional information designers working hand-in-hand with your Django and PHP and Ajax and MySQL wizards.

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Easy maps that are easy to update too
May 14, 2007, 10:04 pm
Filed under: data, journalism, maps, online

Wouldn’t you like to make maps of your local restaurants and other favorite spots? I don’t mean you, the private citizen (but maybe you too), but rather you, the newspaper. I know, I know — updating is the thing that scares you. It would scare me. How are you ever going to be able to keep those maps up to date?

Well, what if you could just keep the data in a spreadsheet? An online spreadsheet that could be edited by several suitable people in your newsroom?

Google has your candy. Thanks to Andy Dickinson for finding this.

You haven’t used Google Docs & Spreadsheets yet? (Help files here.) What are you waiting for?

Update (May 15): Andy has a couple of new links to help you out if you’re using WordPress.

Cool uses of Google’s MyMaps: America’s Highway: Oral Histories of Route 66 and Charleston Voters’ Guide 2007.

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Database about local school discipline
May 2, 2007, 12:35 pm
Filed under: data, graphics, hyperlocal, journalism, news, newspapers, online

Here’s a nice local, local, local package that would grab the attention of parents in your circulation area (if you made your own version, that is):

Who Gets Suspended?

This package about public school suspensions, from the Northwest Florida Daily News (a 38,000-circ. daily located between Pensacola and Panama City on the beautiful Florida panhandle) might look like Flash to you — but it’s not!

It’s all JavaScript and CSS, with a database back-end. Sweet! The database was built from scratch in MySQL for this project by Daily News programmer Matt Minix. The data were gathered by education reporter Rachel Kyler. I got all this from online editor Isaac Sabetai, who feels pretty proud of what they accomplished. I don’t blame him.

The About This Project page explains how the newspaper used public records to create this interesting database. The complete project is here.

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Survey results: What my readers said
April 28, 2007, 5:37 pm
Filed under: audiences, blogging, data, metrics, tools

A week ago, I posted a Wufoo survey here, and 173 of you were kind enough to complete it (108 said they are journalists). Thank you!

You can see the results in graphic format. It’s not the most user-friendly format I’ve ever seen, and it’s only the raw data, so it includes everyone who answered. I have downloaded all the data as a CSV file and will analyze it properly after I finish grading (yes, our semester ended Wednesday).

To see the questions I asked, look here.

Reading Habits

I asked: How does this blog fit into your other blog reading?

  • 70 selected: It is one of the top 10 blogs I read regularly.
  • 67 selected: I read a large number of blogs regularly, and this is just one of them.
  • 10 or fewer selected one of the other six answers.

I asked: Have you seen this blog before today?

  • 74 selected: I have your blog in my RSS feeds and check it often.
  • 46 selected: I check your blog often.
  • 19 selected: I check your blog occasionally.
  • 12 selected: Today is the first time I ever saw your blog.

There were four other answers, each with lower totals.

Preferred Content

I asked: You want to see more posts about … (tick only 3)

  • 58 selected: Online journalism packages (larger stories with multiple segments)
  • 51 selected: Video online
  • 42 selected: Flash
  • 41 selected: Newsroom reforms
  • 38 selected: Teaching online journalism
  • 37 selected: Interactivity

(This is one of the questions where doing a proper data analysis will yield more useful results; I can sort for regular readers, journalists only, etc.)

I asked: What type of post do you like MOST?

  • 51 selected: Tutorials and how-to posts
  • 49 selected: All of these, or I can’t pick just one
  • 22 selected: “Think pieces” or original essays
  • 16 selected: Links to examples at professional journalism sites
  • 14 selected: Critiques of specific online journalism work
  • 10 selected: Overview posts that provide links to several related posts or resources at other sites

I asked: What type of post do you like LEAST?

  • 60 selected: I like all of these, at least sometimes
  • 43 selected: None of these are a type I like LEAST
  • 18 selected: Summaries of other people’s very long articles or blog posts
  • 14 selected: Critiques of specific online journalism work
  • 12 selected: Overview posts that provide links to several related posts or resources at other sites
  • 12 selected: Tutorials and how-to posts

So, this is all pretty interesting to me (I don’t know about you). As I said, these are just the raw data, but it does make me think I should adjust some of my practices with this blog!

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Information Graphics Workshop and Conference
April 28, 2007, 5:44 am
Filed under: data, graphics, journalism, news

June 3 through 5 at Michigan State. Take advantage of discounted registration until May 4. Details here. Check out the video interview with Nigel Holmes. Organized by Karl Gude.

No Flash and no animation, but there will be 3-D.

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An easy way to survey your users
April 21, 2007, 3:40 pm
Filed under: audiences, data, metrics, tools

Someone in my del.icio.us network posted a link to Wufoo, a new survey-building tool. When I saw that there is a free version, I thought I’d check it out. If you can’t see it below, your Web browser does not support the “iframe” tag. No worries — use this link instead.

Update (April 29): The survey is finished. To see the questions I asked, look here.

There are ONLY eight (8) questions! Come on, help me out!

The red asterisk (*) denotes a required field.

Fill out my Wufoo form!

Powered by Wufoo

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Maps, mashups and storytelling
April 3, 2007, 11:58 am
Filed under: data, graphics, maps, online, storytelling

In a very thoughtful post, Simon Waldman (director of digital strategy and development for the Guardian Media Group) mulls over “the current frenzy with mash-ups.”

When is a map useful in storytelling?

I suppose it only works when the spatial difference between two points really matters. Or when you start to see clusters of similar activity….

A map works only if the location of events is the key story that you’re trying to get across — and it’s either going to be the similarity or dramatic difference in location of comparable events/information.

Waldman links to a bunch of interesting online maps, including a few I had not seen before. It’s interesting — and also useful, I would argue — to think about how maps help us to understand.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of where (e.g., where exactly is the U.S. state of Montana? People from outside North America are not likely to know). Sometimes “where” includes proximity: Were the crime scenes close together? Is there a pattern to be discovered?

One of the coolest things I’ve seen on a map recently was an animation of the roaming habits of one tagged elephant in Africa. This animation is part of a fantastic story from National Geographic and MediaStorm that integrates still photography, video, and information graphics in a tightly edited video format: Ivory Wars: Last Stand in Zakouma. What you realize as the map animation progresses is exactly this: Nothing else, in any format, would tell this segment of the story as effectively as the animated map (starts at about 5:33).

That’s the thing we have to learn so we can really grow and excel in this medium: Which form or format or media type is the best — the absolute best — for telling the story? Each part of the story might have a different answer to that question.

Maps can really help clarify and simplify many stories. But they are not always the right choice, because they’re not always the best choice. A case in point: College Debt Advice from Recent Graduates, from USA Today. Take a look. Why is this a map?

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