To my generation that has grown up with GPS systems, maps are scary. But maps tell stories in a new way. They allow journalists to share stories visually and in an uncomplicated manner. When a newspaper’s website provides maps to complement a story, readers can gain a better understanding of the information.
Take The New York Times’ interactive “Map of the Damage From the Japanese Earthquake”, for example. I am not familiar with the geography of Japan, so I needed clarification from a map when I read a story about the earthquake. NYTimes.com provided a comprehensive map that allows readers to gain a better understanding of where the devastated areas are, based on missing people and damaged or destroyed buildings. In addition, there are photographs that go along with the map. It is more beneficial to me when there are multiple visual components to a news story online. The story comes to life. It’s more than just reading words in a newspaper or on a website. It was heart-wrenching to see the number of deaths and missing people in each area on the map.
Boston.com’s interactive map of “The Long War” against terrorism provides the reader with a visual component to Charles Sennott’s journey with the Afghan National Army forces that are hunting for Osama bin Laden. The map was a helpful addition to Sennott’s “journal” because it allowed me to follow along with his entries. For example, when I clicked on number four, “Sawat Valley, Pakistan,” the background behind the text revealed a photograph from Sennott’s point of view. The map provides the geographic locations, while each individual spot on it contains more details and photographs of the landscape that he saw. I almost felt I was on the route with him because of the details at each location.
I really enjoyed looking at Boston.com’s “Mark the Potholes” Google map. It was both fun and informative. Though I am from Central Massachusetts – which is not listed on the map – and don’t drive in Boston unless I am covering an event for work, I spent time looking at potholes and road problems in Greater Boston. Yes, the map includes the locations and sizes of potholes, but it also informs the readers of road disintegration, places with strong odors of natural gas and snow plow damages. The wording was casual and informal (“A LOT OF POTHOLES!”), which is a pleasant change from the hard-hitting news I usually read on the website.
The three maps I concentrated on were visually appealing and interesting. Other maps, however, aren’t as enjoyable. For example, I don’t want to look at a map that graphs data. Actually, I want to stay as far away from data as possible. With that being said, though, I understand how it is easier for readers to understand data on a map rather than in a spreadsheet.
Overall, I think mapping is a useful journalism tool. With photograph and video components to stories online, there is no excuse not to create maps when possible.