When to use shape maps in data visualisation: part 2 of a great big guide

maps xkcd

xkcd’s take on mapping, via Duarte Romero

In a previous post I explained some of the considerations in deciding to use a map in data visualisation, and went into detail about mapping points and heatmaps. In this second part, taken from the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, I’m going to look at other types of maps: shape-based maps and image maps.

Mapping shapes

A more ambitious alternative to mapping points is to map shapes: in other words, instead of each data point being placed on a specific point on a map, instead different areas on that map are drawn and coloured/labelled according to the relevant data. Continue reading

When to use maps in data visualisation: a great big guide

Zombie map

Matt Bierbaum’s zombie map allows you to simulate outbreaks

When it comes to data visualisation, everyone loves a map. More exciting than a chart, easier than an infographic, it’s generally the first thing that journalists and journalism students alike ask: “How can we create a map?”

But just because you have some geographical data doesn’t mean you should map it.

Here’s why: maps, like all methods of visualisation, are designed for a purpose. They tell particular types of stories well – but not all of them.

There is also more than one type of map. You can map points, shapes, or routes. You can create heat maps and choropleth maps.

I’ll tackle those different types of maps first – and then the sorts of stories you might tell with each. But the key rule running throughout is this: make sure you are clear what story you are trying to tell, or the story that users will try to find. The test is whether a map does that job best. Continue reading

VIDEO: Jornalismo de Dados – “Dados no contexto digital”

Inês Rodrigues interviewed me and a bunch of other people for a Portuguese video project about data journalism. The results can be seen in the video above, while you can also watch longer versions of the individual interviews with experts including Alberto Cairo, Simon Rogers and Raquel Albuquerque, and separate videos on subjects such as open access (in Portuguese). I’ve embedded these below. Continue reading

How one journalist found hidden code in a Google report and turned it into a story

right to be forgotten analysis

The story found that most requests were made by private individuals, not politicians or criminals. Image: The Guardian

Sylvia Tippmann wasn’t looking for a story. In fact, she was working on a way that Google could improve the way that it handled ‘right to be forgotten‘ processes, when she stumbled across some information that she suspected the search giant hadn’t intended to make public.

Two weeks ago The Guardian in the UK and Correct!v in Germany published the story of the leaked data, which was then widely picked up by the business and technology press: Google had accidentally revealed details on hundreds of thousands of ‘right to be forgotten’ requests, providing a rare insight into the controversial law and raising concerns over the corporation’s role in judging requests.

But it was the way that Tippmann stumbled across the story that fascinated me: a combination of tech savvy, a desire to speed up work processes, and a strong nose for news that often characterise data journalists’ reporting. So I wanted to tell it here. Continue reading

The hidden dangers of ethnic minority data in big surveys

Crowd of people

Just because a sample is big, doesn’t mean it’s representative of the people you’re looking for. Image by Sreejith K

One of the things reporters should always be careful about when reporting on research or statistics is sample sizes: the smaller sample, the wider the margin for error when generalising to the population as a whole (more on sampling here and here).

But sometimes the sample size is less obvious than you think. Continue reading

16 areas where publishers can learn from retail: shopping news

Shopping News book coverAfter decades as a business reporter and shopping correspondent John Cokley has turned his attention to the news business in the book Shopping News. In a special guest post for the Online Journalism Blog he lists ’16 models for journalistic action’ and details ways that publishers could think about range, price and labelling their products better.

In 2004 I began to develop the theory that shopping showed us three things that journalists and news publishers could really use in our business every day to prevent our businesses from going broke. If only we could work out:

  • “What people want”
  • “What they’re willing to pay money for”, and
  • “How much they’re willing to pay”

Surely making a living in journalism means enticing people to buy your product, or at least to invest time in it?

Perhaps it would be a good idea to find out what people were already buying and investing their time in. Continue reading

In the wake of Ashley Madison, towards a journalism ethics of using hacked documents

Got leaks? sign

Got leaks image by Edward Conde

Last week I said we needed an ethical code for dealing with hacking leaks, and promised to explore that.

Now yet another site – “casual sex and cheating network” Ashley Madison – has been hacked and the results leaked, so I thought I’d better deliver.

How do you come up with an ethical framework for dealing with hacked documents? Firstly, it’s useful to look at what concerns are raised when journalists use them.

Looking at previous reporting based on leaked documents these break down into three broad categories:

  1. Firstly, that the information was ‘stolen’ (method)
  2. Secondly, that the motivation behind obtaining the information was tainted (source)
  3. And thirdly, that the information represents an invasion of privacy (effect)

Put another way: people are generally concerned with how the leaked information was obtained, why, and to what effect. Continue reading