Friday, June 22, 2007

Quest for maps

It’s easy to be seduced by video and audio slide shows. They are like magic to print reporters who, until now, have been confined to words and the dreaded “info” boxes to relay information.

But multimedia isn’t just about pictures that move or fade, zoom or pan. We now have all sorts of tools to convey a story. We don’t have to do this all by ourselves. Photographers will produce better visuals. Graphic artists and designers will make it look prettier. But it will be up to us to bring home the information, the details that give the artist’s canvas color and detail.

Just as we’ve learned how to make graphic requests and photo assignments, we need to understand the tools.

Rule No. 5 of Multimedia: Embrace Google Maps.

Go ahead. You can even make one.

Get started right away with Atlas or MapMaker.

Mindy McAdams has blogged about this in detail.

There's a great tutorial to learn the basics.

Look at what my colleague Hurst Laviana did last week on a story about unsolved homicides. Each point gives a thumbnail of the cold case. All he needed was an Excel spreadsheet with the location, and pretty much the map programs did the rest.

OK, nothing’s perfect. Our programming goddess Katie fixed all the random dots that turned up in another hemisphere, even though the spreadsheet specifically said Kansas. Doesn’t Google Maps know we have a street that runs right down the Sixth Principle Meridian? The street is even called Meridian. It’s not in Arizona somewhere.

So everything has bugs. But Katie is skillful in Google Maps, so if there’s a problem, she can fix it.

To learn more about Google maps, courtesy of the experts at NICAR, especially Matt Waite and Jeremy Milarsky:

Read this, or at least talk someone in your newsroom into reading it: "Beginning Google Maps Applications with Rails and Ajax: From Novice to Professional," by By Andre Lewis
Michael Purvis, Jeffrey Sambells, Cameron Turner
(Apress 2007)

Check out the Google Maps blog. If you want to go even deeper.

Google Maps Mania: The Beatlemania of Google Maps. Kind of.

While we don’t have to know how to program all this, we at least need a basic understanding of what we'll need to set up your spreadsheet, so someone else can map it easily.

We’re just training in Flash. Pretty soon, we may be able to do the kind of cool stuff they do in Oakland.

That's what I'm talking about.

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