Articles about "Geotagging and geodata"

NPR experiments with local news headlines on national home page

People who visit in 13 cities around the country will see local news headlines on the home page for the next month. It’s an experiment to see if NPR can use its website to bring attention to member stations’ newsgathering. For one group of stations (WBURWNYCWAMUWHYYWFIUKPCC and North Country Public Radio), the headlines link directly to stories on the member stations’ sites.

For a second group (Michigan RadioKPLUKQEDKUT,Oregon Public Broadcasting and Boise State Public Radio), the headlines link to story pages on, but the pages carry the member stations’ branding and have prominent links to their Facebook pages. “Our goal here is to build longterm audience growth through a connection between the local user and the station’s Facebook page,” write Bob Kempf and Mark Stencel in a blog post.

Kempf, the vice president in charge of NPR’s digital services team, told me in an email that NPR will measure referrals from to member stations’ sites, traffic to the NPR-hosted story pages, and Facebook engagement (number of fans and how often people comment on or share stories) related to those local stories. “We want to see if there is consistent engagement in local content alongside what is usually a national/international news consumption use case, and more importantly if we can offer more than a transitory ‘drive by’ visit to a single story.” Read more


Nonprofit news sites won’t have to pay to use Google Maps API

Nieman Journalism Lab | Google Geo Developers Blog
Google has responded to concerns about its plans to charge to use the Google Maps API, which powers all kinds of map-based news applications. The company now says it won’t start charging until a site exceeds the usage limit for 90 consecutive days, and it won’t charge nonprofit organizations (although one wonders whether Google will rely on the IRS to decide what counts as a nonprofit). “Nonprofit news orgs look to be in the clear, and Google could declare other news org maps apps to be ‘in the public interest’ and free to run,” writes Josh Benton. The new limits take effect in 2012. || Earlier: News developers worried about new cost to use Google Maps Read more


News developers worried about new cost to use Google Maps

ProgrammableWeb | | ReadWriteWeb
If the developers in your newsroom seem unusually stressed this week, it’s probably because Google will start charging for use of the Google Maps API after Jan. 1. “An era has ended for the first API that really made mashups mainstream,” writes ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick. For basic maps, Google will allow 25,000 uses of the API free per day (9.125 million a year). That drops to 2,500 per day (912,500 a year) for maps that use custom styles. Above that, Google will start charging by the use or try to sell an “enterprise” license. According to Serdar Tumgoren, a developer at The Washington Post, that license costs $10,000 for a million page views a year and goes up to $40,000 for 5 million a year.

“5 million PVs per year is not a lot for a large news site,” tweeted Ken Schwencke, who works at the Los Angeles Times.’s Scott Gilbertson writes that “Google appears to be interested mainly in collecting fees from sites with consistently heavy traffic rather than experiments that see a one-time traffic spike.” But, PolitiFact developer and University of Nebraska journalism professor Matt Waite said via Twitter, it puts developers in the “perverse situation where you’d want traffic, but not that much. … I really hope this unleashes renewed interest in open mapping tech, in newsrooms and out. It’s got my attention.” Scott Klein, ProPublica’s editor of news applications, asked why custom styles cost dramatically more, prompting Washington Post developer Jeremy Bowers to respond, “I dig custom maps. But it’s going to cost resources in an election year.” || Glass half-full: GoogleMapsAPI tweeted in response to concerns: “Google Maps API is still free! Just has a limit of 25k maps/day. That means pricing only affects the top 0.35% sites!” Read more


Data visualization ‘on another level’ compared to a few years ago

Wilson Andrews, The Washington Post’s information designer, discusses his data visualizations and the progress of the field in a Forbes interview. “The kinds of graphics that are now being done, especially online, are on another level than what was being produced several years ago,” he says. “Long form journalism is just as important as it ever was, but often long form pieces are greatly enhanced by smart and clear data visualization.” He says that he starts with the simplest possible design, only adding movement and interactive elements if they will help people understand the information. Examples of his work are in the interview. Related: WNYC’s John Keefe finished up his New York evacuation map as he rode the subway to work last week. Read more


Knight News Challenge gives $1.5 million to projects that filter, examine data

The Knight Foundation is directing almost a third of its $4.7 million in News Challenge grants this year to help journalists and the public organize and analyze data and documents.

In different ways, several of these projects seek to solve the persistent challenges of journalists working on investigative and daily stories: how to make sense of vast amounts of data and find the stories within.

“Journalists are now drowning in documents and data,” said Jonathan Stray, interactive technology editor for The Associated Press. “The tools we have to deal with this are actually pretty primitive.”

Stray’s project, Overview, will develop advanced, open-source tools to help journalists tackle these real-world problems. Overview will use data visualizations to help journalists explore data, discover relationships among them and zoom in for a closer look.

Other projects will enable public commenting of documents stored online; build simple, Web-based tools to clean and organize data; and figure out how to bring data-driven, hyperlocal news to rural communities.

The five winning projects aimed at data and documents are:

  • Overview: The Associated Press will receive $475,000 to develop visualization tools to help journalists explore data.
  • PANDA: This project headed by two developers from the Chicago Tribune and one at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., will use $150,000 to create simple, Web-based tools to help journalists analyze data and organize it centrally for a newsroom.
  • DocumentCloud Reader Annotations: Knight will give IRE, which now runs the DocumentCloud document hosting service, $320,000 to enable the public to add notes to documents.
  • OpenBlock Rural: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive $275,000 to help rural news organizations adopt a data-oriented approach to presenting public records, in the model of EveryBlock.
  • ScraperWiki: A $280,000 grant will build out a “data on demand” service to this existing website so that journalists can request data and stay apprised of potentially newsworthy changes.

Other News Challenge winners focus on better ways to collect and use data, such as Spending Stories, which will contextualize news stories about financial issues by tying them to the underlying information, and Public Laboratory, which will teach people how to map and gather information about their communities using innovative, low-cost methods.

Using data visualization to discover what’s important

Access to data often isn’t the biggest problem for journalists these days, Stray said. The real challenge is being able to make sense of it all – whether you’re looking at thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of government documents relating to a freedom of information request, or Sarah Palin’s emails, or the U.S. military’s Iraq War logs.

It’s hard to know what’s important. Keyword searches, for instance, are useful only if you know what words to look for. “We have no idea what we’re missing when we have to deal with documents and data sets,” Stray said.

The project site explains:

“Overview addresses this problem by producing interactive, explorable maps of the contents of very large numbers of documents. These aren’t maps of geography, but of the relations between the topics, people, places, dates, and concepts mentioned — semantic maps.”

An example of this kind of work is a visualization Stray and a colleague created that analyzed important words in the 392,000 Iraq “war logs” leaked by WikiLeaks to get a sense of what information they held.

Creating end-user tools for the newsroom

While Overview aims for the high end of data analysis, the goal of PANDA is to solve everyday problems for journalists. (The full name, “PANDA A Newsroom Data Appliance,” is a recursive acronym, which apparently causes programmers to ROFL.)

The project aims to make data-based journalism accessible to journalists who aren’t skilled in programming, particularly those at small companies that don’t have data specialists.

“PANDA’s about the belief that every journalist should be a data journalist,” said Brian Boyer, news applications editor at the Chicago Tribune. “You shouldn’t have to be a programmer to use it … You shouldn’t have to ask IT to turn it on.”

Boyer, his colleague Joe Germuska and Ryan Pitts at The Spokesman-Review will build open-source, Web-based tools to help journalists clean, analyze and store data.

That’s half of their goal. The other half is to solve the “newsroom knowledge management problem.” Journalists often work with data in isolation, on their own computers. When the story is over, the spreadsheet or database sits on their hard drives.

By placing data sets in a single online location for each newsroom, PANDA will extend the usefulness of those data sets and help journalists collaborate. Often, Boyer said, a journalist won’t even know that a colleague has a relevant data set.

A simple example of this is an existing system at the Tribune that spurred the project. The system allows people to search for names across a variety of data sets that have been collected over time. It helps reporters run the traps when they come across a name and need to find more about the person.

Journalists will use PANDA because it “makes their lives easier, and along the way they’ll be creating their newsroom data center,” Boyer said.

A separate grant to ScraperWiki also seeks to open up access to data to non-programmers. This site has two components: It enables programmers to build “scrapers” that pull data from websites, collaborate on existing scrapers, and store them for others to use; and it allows non-programmers to request that particular data from a website. The grant will be used to build out the latter portion of the site and tailor it to journalists who need help with a data set.

Crowdsourced document annotation

In the two years since DocumentCloud won a News Challenge grant, it has grown into a multi-featured service that enables news organizations to publish, analyze and annotate primary source documents.

From the beginning, the people at DocumentCloud have wanted to enable the public to annotate documents, according to Aron Pilhofer, one of the three leaders of the project and interactive news editor at The New York Times. It would help when, say, the state of Alaska releases 24,000 emails sent and received by the former governor, or the United Kingdom releases 459,000 pages of expense reports for members of parliament.

The new grant will let the team build this feature, which is harder than it would seem. For instance, they have to figure out how to let many people annotate a document without it being a mess for others viewing it.

DocumentCloud also needs to figure out how to make the annotations most useful to the news organization that posts them.

“You want it to be actionable; you want it to become data so the owner of the document can know what is going on at a high level … but can zoom in on individual pieces of the document.”

One possibility, Pilhofer said, is to create a heat map so journalists can see that a particular part of the document is attracting a lot of attention.

DocumentCloud also will give news organizations the ability to hook these notes into their existing commenting systems and enable them to moderate them if they wish.

Pilhofer said the user annotation functionality could establish DocumentCloud as a tool that enables news organizations to collaborate on a single instance of a hosted document. (The team is already working on a method to have a document be uploaded once and posted to many websites.)

With both of these features in place, several news organizations could post a single document (the president’s proposed federal budget, for instance), add their annotations, and let users could toggle between the notes by each news organization. This could also free news orgs from racing to scan and upload documents, as they did with Sarah Palin’s emails.

Several years ago, when Pilhofer worked at the Center for Public Integrity, someone leaked a working draft of a followup to the Patriot Act. The Center posted the document to its website as a PDF; the site went down under the crush of people trying to get it.

“We simply wanted to get the document out to as many organizations as possible,” Pilhofer told me via email, “and we couldn’t do that.”

With the tools DocumentCloud is working on, the Center could host the document with expert annotations. Pilhofer wrote:

“We could have had thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions of readers eyeballing the document and sharing back to us the nuggets they find within the document. In this distributed model I was talking about, you could imagine the Center and dozens of news organizations worldwide posting the document and letting readers annotate it, and having those annotations shared in something like real time.”

Creating rural hyperlocal news with public records

If news organizations in small cities need end-user tools like PANDA to help them with data sets, imagine what kind of help small community papers need. The goal of OpenBlock Rural is to bring data-driven, location-based public records to these organizations.

Ryan Thornburg, assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the project will try to get rural news organizations to use OpenBlock to display public records in a meaningful way.

The rural setting presents unique challenges for data-driven hyperlocal content. Records are often kept on paper, so they’ll have to be scanned. News organizations may have rudimentary systems for storing and tracking information. And it’s hard to know the best way to map this information, considering the low density of population and activities.

A key challenge will be developing a user interface “that fits into the existing workflow of community newspaper editors,” Thornburg said. “They shouldn’t have to know technology to use this tool.”

Building a journalism “technology stack”

A theme of several of the winners is that they build on other projects, both News Challenge winners and others. Overview will use DocumentCloud as its document storage system – which itself grew out of The New York Times’ “document viewer.”

The PANDA developers will rely on Google Refine, a tool for standardizing data sets. OpenBlock Rural will rely, of course, on OpenBlock, the open-source project that is building on the code developed for EveryBlock.

And in a general sense, Overview builds on research that aids complex analysis in other fields such as finance, intelligence and law enforcement.

“What we really need is not a lot of isolated tools, but a technology stack to do high-end journalism with open tools,” Stray said. “One of the goals of the project is to start a movement of research technology and high-end computer science technology into day-to-day journalism.” Read more

1 Comment

Holovaty: EveryBlock’s new community focus will ‘help you make your block a better place’

Monday afternoon, EveryBlock announced a major shift in focus, from a geographically-based, hyperlocal news site to a “platform for discussion around neighborhood news.”

In describing the changes, founder Adrian Holovaty wrote on the EveryBlock Blog that the site is moving away from a one-way, data-oriented news feed to a platform for human interaction based on that news:

While we’re not removing our existing aggregation of public records and other neighborhood information (more on this in a bit), we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site.

“With this in mind, we’ve changed our site to be oriented around community discussion. The EveryBlock experience is still centered around places — blocks, neighborhoods, custom locations — but we’ve rebuilt it from the ground up to be about participation more than passive consumption. … (Instead of the “social graph,” it’s the ‘geo graph.’)”

The site now highlights “neighbor messages” on the home page and on place pages, and it invites people to add their own messages. To foster community, EveryBlock now enables users to thank each other for posts and has established a reputation system.

By clicking a star next to a post, users can subscribe to receive notifications of any comments. EveryBlock will use the most-subscribed items to create a feed of “top news” for any city.

The other major change – in addition to the new look — is the ability to “follow” places. Holovaty explains:

“Previously, if you were interested in the news around multiple places — say, your home and your office — it was very manual. You had to search for your home address, read the news, then search for your work address, read the news, etc. Now, you can log into your EveryBlock account, “follow” those places by clicking the big “follow” button or using our quick follow page, and your EveryBlock homepage will give you all the news from your followed places, in one place, along with an easy way to post messages to those places.”

Holovaty will join us Tuesday for a live chat at 1 p.m. ET to talk about EveryBlocks’ new focus and look. One question I’ll ask, and I’m sure he’ll be ready for, is what role geographically-based data has in this new vision of EveryBlock. Come with your questions.

Twitter users can ask questions ahead of time or during the chat using the #poynterchats hashtag. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >Adrian Holovaty discusses new community discussion focus of geo-data site EveryBlock</a> Read more


News Organizations Publish WikiLeaks Documents With Caution, Innovation

Elusive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is scheduled to appear in London on Monday with Daniel Ellsberg, best known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971. The appearance follows the Friday release of about 400,000 classified documents related to the war in Iraq.

Ellsberg spoke with “Democracy Now” about the leak of these documents:

“It is a leak on a scale I couldn’t have done 40 years ago without scanners and digital capability. … I’m glad to express my support of what WikiLeaks is doing and its sources in particular. … It is the wrong secrecy of information like this that got us into Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq or has kept the war going in Afghanistan.”

Ellsberg also tweeted (through his son): “I’ve waited 40 years for a release of documents on this scale.”

WikiLeaks partnered with traditional news organizations in releasing the documents, as it did in July.

The New York Times once again published an introductory note to readers explaining how it handled the documents.

“As it did with the Afghan war logs, The Times has redacted or withheld any documents that would put lives in danger or jeopardize continuing military operations. Names of Iraqi informants, for example, have not been disclosed. WikiLeaks said that it has also employed teams of editors to scrub the material for posting on its Web site. …

“The New York Times told the Pentagon which specific documents it planned to post and showed how they had been redacted. The Pentagon said it would have preferred that The Times not publish any classified materials but did not propose any cuts.”

The Guardian made data drawn from the documents available for download, provided maps of the Iraq deaths and created an interactive package that tells the story of 146 deaths in a 24-hour period (136 Iraqis and 10 Americans), along with a narrative account of that same day. reports that Al-Jazeera broke the embargo on the documents just before they were scheduled to be released.

“Al-Jazeera, one of the news organizations that it had given the documents weeks ago, broke WikiLeaks’ embargo by publishing a six-minute video on its website late Friday afternoon. The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain and Le Monde, which also received the material under the embargo, followed swiftly with their extensive prepared reports.

“Der Spiegel of Germany and Channel 4 of Britain, which also participated, said they would weigh in Monday. CNN said it had been invited to participate but declined because of ‘conditions’ attached to the material, which it didn’t specify. …

“The Guardian and Le Monde have historically been regarded as liberal newspapers, while Al-Jazeera, a television network based in Qatar, was widely denounced for what critics saw as an anti-U.S. bias after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a characterization it disputes.”

WikiLeaks worked with OWNI to create a crowdsourcing application for the Iraq War documents. In a story about the collaboration, a writer for OWNI describes the terms of the arrangement:

“We decided to work for WikiLeaks despite not knowing what kind of stories the files contained, because we were given the assurance that no lives were going to be put at risk by the release of the logs. Had it been otherwise, we would probably not have done it. All in all, the four conditions we established before coming to London were met:

1. We had six days and a free hand on the development;

2. We had no knowledge of the data before the official release date (or as little as was needed from the technical aspect);

3. We knew for sure that several newsrooms were working on the logs and that sensitive information had been retracted;

4. We wouldn’t have to host the app. A ruling by France’s supreme court in January, 2010, is phrased in such ways that a host is now responsible for all content on its servers. Had we hosted the app ourselves, likely within hours of launch the police would demand we take it offline. We had to look to freer countries for hosting. WikiLeaks told us to look at, their own host, famous for having its servers buried deep in a nuclear shelter.

Assange himself surfaced for the release of the documents. However, he walked out in the middle of an interview on CNN after London-based correspondent Atika Shubert persisted in asking Assange about allegations of sexual assault in Sweden. Read more


4 Digital Tools to Improve Your Government Coverage

Monday and Tuesday, about 40 journalists are gathering at Poynter to learn how they can use free digital services to cover government more effectively. They’ll learn how to share and annotate documents, share data on politicians and lobbyists, understand voting patterns and create data visualizations.

We live blogged four presentations about:

  • Sunlight Foundation: How to use data to cover politicians, lobbyists and campaign contributors
  • Tableau: How to use data visualization to tell interactive stories

The live blogs are archived below. You also can view a live stream of the seminar through 4 p.m. ET today.

Archived blog from the Tableau presentation:

<a href=”″ >Liveblogging Today: 4 Digital Tools to Improve Your Government Coverage</a>

Archived blog from the DocumentCloud, Sunlight Foundation and Patchwork Nation presentations:
 <a href=”″ >Liveblogging Today: 4 Digital Tools to Improve Your Government Coverage</a> Read more


Updated augmented reality browser aggregates location-based information

The augmented-reality company Layar announced a new version of its browser that will allow Android users to find location-based information visually, simply by using the browser. Previously, phone users had to enter a search, or open a “layar” (for instance, one that shows restaurants near you). Now, the dynamically-changing information presented will be sorted by “time, location, proximity, popularity and preferences.”

TechCrunch counts more than 700 layars in existence, with “several thousand” more in development. The companies new technology “supports any location-based object published into Layar, such as check-ins, coupons, status updates, gaming, information, 3D models and more.”

An updated version of the iPhone app is expected within a month.

So, how’s your location-based information strategy coming along?

>Layar revolutionizes Mobile Content Discovery with new Stream Technology powered browser (Layar blog)
>10 Questions to Help You Craft a Mobile Strategy (Before It’s Too Late) (Poynter’s Mobile Media) Read more


Crisis Commons project enables public to report oil spill info from their phones

Crisis Commons
Oil Reporter, a new project from Crisis Commons, is a data initiative that seeks to gather any and all public data on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The group has released iPhone and Android apps to enable the public to upload geotagged photos and information on the spill.

Using an open API, response and volunteer groups can customize Oil Reporter for their own use, submit data to the larger project and build more data collection elements. The project makes it clear (through a welcome screen on the site and through the apps) that all contributed data beyond the official sources is both public and unverified. Response groups can ask to be matched with a volunteer mobile developer to get their own apps up and running.

In addition, the open-source code for both mobile apps is stored on GitHub.

Crisis Commons is a volunteer group that aims to create “a common community through a mash-up of citizen volunteers, crisis response organizations, international humanitarian relief agencies, nonprofits and the private sector.”

There are a couple of interesting takeaways for news organizations. First, since this uses an open API and the app code is open-source, the data and the application code are available to your newsroom.

Second, and probably more important, is the idea of building a community-contributed crisis site. Could you develop a template for community data that could be quickly adapted and released when a hurricane, tornado or other disaster strikes your area? Read more