Journalists are often dealing with content that includes data that could be displayed in an interactive, useful way for web users. However, journalists are often too intimidated to do anything with that data. Let’s face it, there’s a reason we went into journalism (being a math genius generally isn’t it).
However, at the Online News Association conference Friday afternoon, Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press, and John Keefe, of NYC Radio, showed hundreds of journalists how easy and quick data can be visualized.
Minkoff ran through how to quickly visualize FBI crime data, with minimal coding, using Google Chart Tools, which she said does “all the work for you, and it works on every device, including IOS and Android.”
She warned that the less coding you do, the less flexibility you have, but she said you can get by with minimal coding in many instances.
To get started, Minkoff showed how your data has to be formatted in Excel.
The best formats for web data, she said, is JSON and XML.
You also need to use some basic HTML (though only a few lines).
From here, “it’s going to get a little more complicated,” Minkoff said, drawing a few nervous giggles from the crowd. She started talking about the importance of knowing some CSS.
"More than half of this is converting the data from format to format to format."
Minkoff clearly feels comfortable with coding, and none of this is horribly complicated if you know some programming, but it is sure to be intimidating to many, even after this demo.
"You’re never going to know everything," she said. Luckily, she provided a cheat sheet.
After Minkoff finished her presentation, Keefe, of NYC Radio talked about what he has learned as a data journalist in the past two years.
Keefe said he first tried data journalism two years ago when he learned about it at a previous ONA conference.
He competes with the New York Times, which is fantastic with mapping and other data projects. Keefe said he has built several Census maps using Google Fusion Tables, and he showed off a maps of where same-sex couples live in New York City, where Italians live in New York (no longer in Little Italy) and more.
In all, the maps that Keefe showed off do compare well with the work the Times does - they were full of rich, useful information. Keefe said his most popular map was also the easiest map to make - it showed NYC evacuation zones in the event of a hurricane. It was useful, popular and easy to digest when a hurricane did roll up the East Coast. “I had built this map a couple of months earlier just as an exercise, like ‘If a hurricane ever came to New York City, this might be useful. It turned out to be useful.’ “
Keefe said the evacuation zones map was put up on Thursday, and in four days they got “a crazy amount of traffic,” showing off its use as a public service.
"Anybody could have done this," he said. "Was just be in the right place at the right time."
To prove it, Keefe gave a demo on how to build your own evacuation map using Google Fusion, which he pointed out you can “do today in your newsrooms.”
- Robert Quigley