CartoDB, a Spanish software company, maps Twitter

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Photo from cartodb.com.

CartoDB is a Spanish mapping software company that literally visualizes data by creating interactive maps. This company recently teamed up with Twitter to allow any user to create such a map.

Personally, I am excited that this kind of data journalism exists, because I’m a visual learner. I learn new topics easier and quicker when I can attach visuals to ideas.

The specific service that was created hand-in-hand with Twitter is called “Mapping Twitter.” Users can create interactive animated maps that collect information in real-time from geotagged tweets all over the world.

Particularly intriguing is the “Sunrise around the world” interactive map. Dark, shadowy waves represent the movement of the sun’s rays while golden sparkle-like specks pop up wherever the sun is rising at that moment.

Other than globally mapping little sunrises, “Mapping Twitter” created visually appealing interactive maps for events such as the Indian elections, the Super Bowl 2014 and the United States versus Portugal World Cup game.

CartoDB, which was recently chosen as one of the top ten startups in Spain, employs about 24 people and generates an annual turnover of about $2 million, according to Alex Barrera of tech.eu. It has offices in Madrid, Berlin and New York and has served places like The Wall Street Journal, United Nations Environmental Programme, BBVA and the World Resources Institute.

The Use of Data Journalism

As a journalist, one can always be looking for new ways to avoid being too wordy. One crossroad in particular is writing a data journalism story and incorporating all of the data and statistics needed.

A writer can easily lose their reader and cause them to become side tracked to what exactly they’re talking about. For instance, writing a story, or videography discussing the rise of zombie houses or the rate of domestic violence arrests amongst NFL players. There is going to be a lot of information and numbers.

Luckily, a writer can incorporate graphs, or even videos, to their stories.

Courtesy of USA Today NFL Player Arrests Database
Courtesy of USA Today NFL Player Arrests Database

Here, as you can see, is a graph showing the rates of NFL related arrests. Instead of writing out all of the numbers and names of the specific arrests, a detailed graph can be used instead. This also adds a nice visual to the piece as well. Now that you can save time on explaining step by step each piece of data, you can discuss other important things instead.

Another example is Newsday’s lifecycle of a zombie house. Rather than going through a written step by step explanation of the procedure that goes into the maintenance and problems of a zombie house, they instead inserted a slide show. This also makes the reader interact with the story as well.

Another thing Newsday had, which was different for me to see, was how you can type in a specific zip code and get the exact number of zombie houses in that particular area.

I find what both news organizations did were compelling to their stories. They left less confusion, numbers, statistics, etc. After awhile when you’re only reading a story through text it can become boring and tedious. Instead, I enjoyed the use of graphs, videos, and interactive slideshows to keep the story interesting, and it held my attention the entire time.

Definitely something to know for future reference.

Data driven journalism helps understand war better

Data is typically used for statistics, finances, numerical trends and other news-worthy stories requiring numbers, but it can also be used to demonstrate information regarding war.

Currently, the most vulnerable Arab nation, Yemen, is under strife with clashes between the Yemeni government, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Houthi rebel group, security forces still loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and more recently, ISIS. Foreign help, such as Saudi Airstrikes against Houthi rebels and other forces, were brought about to help regain stability. The nation is down-trodden that the UN human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the nation “is on the verge of total collapse.”

The New York Times published a data-story titled “Mapping Chaos in Yemen,” detailing where clashes occurred, which factions have control and where. For the most part, the only factions detailed are Al-Qaeda and the Houthis.

Dots on one map show where Saudi-led airstrikes have occurred. Shaded areas on the same map show Houthi territory and where they expanded after the strikes. What is not mentioned is if the strikes empowered the Houthis to expand or if what looks like an expansion is just them moving to different locations. It also mentioned how many people were killed or injured in certain places.

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Map from The New York Times

The second map shows the progress of Houthi movement from where they had the most influence at one point to today.

Map from The New York Times.
Map from The New York Times.

The last map shows where Al-Qaeda is operating, where the US and other nations led military action and where. Two things regarding this map: The first thing is that military is denoted in clusters of squares. The clusters vary in size, but there is no information as to why the sizes vary. My guess is the size differences show the scale-size of a strike. The other thing, which I would have done, is it doesn’t show a comparison of Houthi-controlled territory juxtaposed with that of Al-Qaeda’s. No map shows this side-by-side comparison, which is what I would have liked to see.

Map from The New York Times.
Map from The New York Times.

Overall, the story does satisfactorily tell the Yemeni situation using data and numbers.

Data journalism: an easier way to read news stories

Almost a year ago, The New York Times launched their new data journalism section, The Upshot, on April 22, 2014.  This new feature focuses on politics, policy, economics and more, in an interactive format different from other sections on their website.

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While browsing through the website, I read through some of the latest stories, but only one sparked my interest.  The title alone, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men” seemed interesting enough.

The article starts off with a couple of graphs followed by a couple of paragraphs of text.  That is how the whole article is written.  I have found that personally, when articles are written in this form, text broken up with photos or other figures, it is easier to read.

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Not only is it easier to read the information that is in these graphs, but it is also more visually appealing.  Some of the NYT articles I have read, I have clicked out of, because they were too long or because there was too much text, with nothing breaking it up.

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The Upshot is different.  These graphs and figures seem more interactive and are much more appealing to the eye than other articles you would read on the NYT website.

The numbers that hit hard

When it comes to news stories, what often attracts people is the headline or at least the first line of the piece. Sometimes that may be some dramatic, exquisitely written opening statement. Other times, it can just be a number that catches the eye. The latter case comes in the form of data journalism.

According to VOX, data journalism is just “journalism based off of data.” It is still reporting on an event, but the basis of the report is based on a new or collected piece of data. It’s an investigation of why there is a large or small number of something.

An example of this can be found in The Upshot, a section of The New York Times. A recent report claims that there are 1.5 billion black men missing in America today, primarily due to death and prison sentences. The Upshot uses collected statistics taken of the number of young black men in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. The report also uses various graphs to give a visual description on the issue mentioned in the report, including a bar graph about the distribution of whites and blacks and a map of the United States highlighting where black men are missing the most. These pieces of data is given in various formats to express the issue in the report as many ways possible. In fact, each new subject the report highlights opens with a graph, with the written aspect breaking down the parts of the graph.

What makes this story proper data journalism is that it takes each piece if data and breaks it down to separate portions. This way, each element to the report is focused on and easy to understand, almost like putting together a puzzle piece by piece. Data journalism relies on numbers and figures to start a report, but one has to be able to research and investigate those numbers to highlight why it is something that is newsworthy.

Data journalism is making a difference

Data journalism is a specific type of journalism that combines aspects of reporting, computer sciences and statistics in order to release data and numerical information that otherwise may be to confusing for people to read and understand.

Graphs, charts and other types of graphics are often used to depict numbers and other statistics to make them easier to decipher.

The New York Times recently published a piece entitled, ‘1.5 Million Missing Black Men,’ which reported on the number of “missing” African American men because they are either dead or behind bars. The article stated that 1.5 million African American men are missing in the United States, with nearly 120,000 men between the ages of 25 and 54 missing from everyday life in New York alone.

Data showing the percent of African American men in U.S. cities and the number of those missing across the United States. (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)
Data showing the percent of African American men in U.S. cities and the number of those missing across the United States. (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Numbers alone might not make an impact, but a graphic created by the New York Times shows the places across the United States where African American males are missing. This can make people see that there may be an astounding number people behind bars or even dead, in cities that readers call home.Map of the United States showing where in the nation African American men are "missing." (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Map of the United States showing where in the nation African American men are “missing.” (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Data journalism makes these large topics and brings them down to a level so they can be understood by the general population.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then data journalism must be worth 5,000. This type of journalism is vital and should be used much more to shed light on topics that might otherwise go unnoticed.

April is for assault awareness

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, otherwise known as SAAM. Stony Brook University recognizes SAAM through a month-long calendar of events hosted by various clubs and organizations on campus.

SAAM
Photo Credit: National Sexual Violence Resource Center

SAAM is an annual national campaign run by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO). Student groups and administration alike have been hosting events that will address issues relating to sexual health and even empowering survivors, as well as bystander intervention. Other sponsors include the Weekend Life Council, Center for Womyn’s Concerns, Program in Public Health, University Title IX Coordinator, SBU StandUp Charter, Camp Kesem, H Quad, Kelly Quad, Students United for Action, The Next Generation, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, LGBTQ Services, and the Career Center.

A calendar of the events can be viewed here:
saam_events_2015

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Photo Credit: National Sexual Violence Resource Center

 

On Wednesday, April 15 at 1 p.m., during campus lifetime, there will be a march called “A Walk in Their Shoes” through the Academic Mall to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. This will be run by the Suffolk Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Donations will also be accepted that will be sent to domestic violence centers all over Long Island.

This march will serve as a good visual representation of the larger issue that is domestic violence and sexual assault.

Social media mayhem before and after JRN 320

Prior to the start of JRN 320, I had attempted to increase my social media presence by starting a Tumblr, where I’d post mostly game and comic reviews and blog posts about whatever nerdy thing I was into at the moment.

I realized that it’s really hard to get Tumblr followers if I’m not posting porn or Doctor Who.

But during the class, I tried something else. I had never live-tweeted an event before taking this class and doing the first assignment, though I was sure I had a solid grasp of what needed to be done for it to work.

Inspired by that assignment, and by what I had seen major gaming sites do in the past, I decided that a weekend trip up to Boston for PAX East 2015, one of the largest video-gaming conventions in the world, would be a prime time for some live-action journalism.

I performed the majority of my live tweets from The Stony Brook Press’s account, as I was trying to boost our social media presence and truth be told, we managed to grab a few followers from outside of Stony Brook.

I did my best to relay a solid amount of all the cool things I saw, including panels from industry insiders providing tips on everything from how to break into the industry, to what makes video game music so great.

By the end of the first day, I realized how exhausting live coverage is, especially when it’s being done entirely from a cell-phone.

By far the worst part was using the WordPress app to upload updates to my article on sbpress.com and having to navigate to Twitter with my phone’s browser to get the embed codes for my tweets.

It was a wonderful experience though, one I hope to do again and relatively often.

Since then, a few other reporters have live-tweeted events from the @SBPress Twitter account, somewhat inspired by my efforts, including the Oscars and Wrestlemania and the NCAA finals, and every time it has garnered the account a few more new followers.

Addicted to Social Media

I have always been social media savvy. My first encounter was when I was 12-years-old and I created a Meetspot, which feels like centuries ago at this point.

At around the age of 13 is when I started living off of Myspace. Constantly posting updates of my dramatic teenage life, and consistent fights over who was in my top eight.

As time progressed Myspace died and I moved onto FaceBook, as did everyone else. Again, posting my everyday life because I found it to be necessary, for whatever reason.

Photo Credit: Crafttruck.com
Photo Credit: Crafttruck.com

It wasn’t until a couple years ago did social media play an actual importance to my life. When I first created a Facebook and Instagram account they were both just in their beginning stages.

Now I use them for networking, receiving news and just keeping up to date with recent trends.

One social media site I wasn’t to fond of was Twitter. That was until my journalism 301 professor suggested to create one and stressed the importance to do so. He went on and on about how crucial it will be for our future jobs and careers.

Photo Credit: Huffingtonpost.com
Photo Credit: Huffingtonpost.com

So naturally I created one. Never used it.

Now, in my current semester, I have finally put Twitter to use. In my journalism 320 class, it was required to use the social site. Other than the class assignments, I still never use it.

Nothing personal against Twitter but I just prefer Facebook and Instagram. Here and there I will ‘Tweet’, still not as often as others. I still have more followers on Instagram than I do Twitter, but I still follow Twitter accounts that I find interesting, though I usually do not check.

All in all I can say throughout this class it has boosted my social media skills in a sense. I’ve never used social media to report a story, so that is something new to add to my list. Also I have never written a blog post before, which I think is the most important skill I have learned so far, and will continue to use and advance.

All aboard the social media express

I have mainly used Facebook and YouTube, if you count that as social media, before the start of this semester. I was not much of a status-poster, page sharer or photo-uploader. I never used Twitter or Instagram until this semester. Now, I post more on Twitter than I do on Facebook and use Instagram more than I ever thought possible.

I do have a Twitter account, but before, I saw Twitter as a joke; a watered down Facebook for those who feel the need to post every little thing. I always said “you can’t spell Twitter without ‘twit.'” The same went for Instagram. I remember talking to someone and he called it the “Facebook for the illiterate.” I didn’t exactly think that, but I think I got what he was trying to say. Needless to say, I did open these accounts to see how I could benefit.

I can say expanding my social media horizons was beneficial. I was able to report on happenings and situations wherever I was.

My biggest on-spot reporting using social media had to be that one Friday morning when it was two degrees, real chilly and I had to get to 320. It was 7:00 a.m. and the train that I and Carlos Cadorniga were supposed to get on was unofficially cancelled. The whole Long Island Rail Road was in shambles that morning with a few broken rails and a disabled train.

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Carlos and I tweeted, with the use of Instagram, about this only to let our amazing and wonderful professor, Mr. Carl Corry, know about our situation. When he and others told us to keep tweeting, we just went along with it. We didn’t even think it would be seen as entertainment or updated news like a breaking news story with details coming along, we just wanted to get to class. At least the class and others got a kick out of our suffering (maybe we should suffer more often?). But when we documented everything that happened, I actually felt like I was getting a real-life, instant experience: tweeting, interviewing, photo and picture taking and posting information on the fly. It reminded me of the whole concept of being quick, but accurate. Granted I could have done things better that day such as getting full names of people I interviewed.

I do retweet stories that are interesting and compelling for others to see. I am following 122 Twitter accounts, both people and groups and I have 43 followers. Some notable followers are, apparently, the co-founder of Activision, a comedian with more than 100,000 followers and some Saudi Arabian airline, by the looks of it. I’m skeptical about the Saudi Arabian airline page, but I’ll leave it for now. Not sure how any of these people found me.

I think I will keep using these social media tools for years to come. If anything new comes out then, I’ll give that an exploration.