Making collaborative maps is easier than ever. But maybe not quite easy enough.One of the projects I'm working on at the moment is a super-duper-simple tool to help public radio and television stations (and pretty much anyone else) collect and map local information from their audience.We're in the design phase right now, and we've mocked it up for feedback. The video is below.Whaddya think? Let us know!
Simple: Non-geeks can absorb it within a few secondsAnd I'll add one more:
Unexpected: It fills a gap in our knowledge
Concrete: It takes advantage of our senses and understandings
Credible: It is journalistically sound, from a trusted source, without bias
Emotional: It hits you in the chest, you feel the data
Story: It tells one
Relevant: It is timely, current and usefulGot examples that ring all seven bells? Maybe even four? Share them in the comments here or email me: john (at) designAgitator.com.-----The map detail above is from my favorite example at the moment, which is on Slate. Jump over there, take a look, and then run it through the checklist:
Simple? Once you know that blue is jobs gained and red is jobs lost, you're set. Just press play.Rings my bell.
Unexpected? Seriously so. The speed of change is amazing.
Concrete? The familiar map orients me at a glance; I respond quickly to the circle sizes, colors and densities.
Credible? Bureau of Labor Statistics, Slate.
Emotional? Oh yeah. I saw someone actually shiver while watching it.
NY terror-plot suspects indictedNone of this 140-character stuff. Better to use just five words; seven max. (I used a nonessential adjective clause once. Lost everyone by the second comma.)
Media banned from covering Iran protestsAnd I know where you are, no fancy GPS required.
Building collapse on Reade Street, up aheadEven if it's partly cloudy in the Bronx, I am absolutely certain you're in a downpour.
This rain ends by eveningUser customization? Easy. I can sense you're in line for the Holland Tunnel on your evening commute home. So how about a little news about your governor and his chief rival?
Corzine, Christie speak to biz group toniteIt's tempting to simply repurpose our tweets or web headlines, feeding them automatically to the sign. But it's also clear that wouldn't be as special. Or impactful. Or memorable. So I've been recrafting our material specifically for my particular version of a hyperlocal, mobile user.I've been doing this for a few weeks as a prototype, and soon WNYC's editors, producers and hosts will feed lines to the sign. What I've learned by writing -- and watching -- those little red words will help our staff craft the phrases that catch your eye as you zip by.
1) Queens and Brooklyn schools had much lower attendance rates than Manhattan and Staten Island schools.2) Teens skip school on nice May days.No. 2 is apparent because almost every red square is a high school, which have notoriously low rates this time of year. For a better indication of potentially flu-related absences, I'd chart the difference between these absentee rates and a typical May day at each school ... which is info I don't have. Yet.Initially I published this in Google Maps, which was interactive and allowed you to click on schools for specific info. But Google Maps only plotted about 100 or so schools, and there are more than 1,000 here. Instead, I did it in Google Earth on my own computer and took a snapshot. Here's another.Kinda cool. Was fun to do.Next!----------Anatomy of the process:Daily absentee data from the school system is here.
An Excel spreadsheet with general data on each school is here.
I crossed these two data sets in Access to match school numbers with addresses.
I got the latitude and longitude for each address, in 500-line batches, here.
I spent a lot of time learning about KML files, writing them, failing, trying again.
I made colored icons in Photoshop, and used Excel to assign each school the correct icon.
I put all of the relevant data into one spreadsheet and fed it to this little helper ...
Which gave me this KML file ...
Which I fed to Google Earth, running on my Mac.
Information and raw data are piling up faster than our ability to absorb it. And the tools available to access, understand, visualize and feel that information are woefully inadequate.I believe journalism, design thinking and information technology can be wielded to express these stories in ways never before considered. And I'm part of a small posse poised to do just that.If this interests you, or if you'd like to join our rag-tag group, write me: john (at) designAgitator.com.In the meantime, assume some of the gaps in designAgitator postings mean we're hard at work helping to explain the world(!)
2) It's bad for journalism.Let me grab a sticky. Okaaay ... a quick tally reveals that roughly half of our newsroom and talk show staff started out as interns, fill-ins or temporary workers.That means that if we are working to cover one of the most diverse, complex, and interesting cities in the world, we would be remiss in our hiring -- and our journalism -- if we drew interns only from the pool of people with enough cash to work full time for free.Instead, we have a robust and successful internship program and a staff with a variety of backgrounds and skills.(And, um, we don't pay our interns.)Crafting a Successful Internship ProgramSo here are some key concepts I've collected from different programs at different companies in different cities.* They're based mainly on newsroom and media work, but could apply to pretty much any workplace. Mix and match as you see fit; adjust for altitude as necessary.
Pay your interns. If you can't pay your interns, design the internship so they can earn money elsewhere. This may mean having two or three interns working two or three days a week, and being open to nontraditional start and end times. This is what we do in our newsroom. Covering basic transportation and meal costs helps, too, even if just $10 per day. Build a process. Write a notice that welcomes applications and explains your intern program. Set application deadlines, selection dates, start dates and end dates. Pull this together into something schools and institutions can post, either online or on a wall. Seek outside the box. Not enough Spanish speakers in your organization? Post in communities were people are fluent. Lacking in general math talent? Contact the university math department for prospects. Need more local expertise? Try a community college instead of the world-renowned graduate program. If your intern program becomes a good feeder for your staff (even years later), expose it to people with skills you lack. Prototype prototype prototype. Ever wonder whether an epidemiologist would be a good reporter? I do! Be clear on the responsibilities. Have an established list of intern duties. If they can change during the term, set out a schedule. Be sure to leave room for individual skills and talent. Be clear on the future. In most cases, an internship does not a job become. Don't assume interns know this. Actually tell them there is no guarantee of a job afterward. Oh, and don't use the chance of a job to inspire good work. If you need that carrot, you've picked the wrong intern. Be clear on the term. Confirm the start and end dates at the outset. When the end date arrives, thank them for their work and help and say goodbye. Thirteen weeks is a good length, and often corresponds with academic work. Set limits. There are some things you probably don't want your interns doing, including representing your operation as staff when they are not. Be clear about those situations. At our shop, interns are not used on air and don't interview major newsmakers. Don't use interns as substitutes. Or, rather, do use them if they're qualified, but only if you actually hire them for the gig. If they're doing the work of a fill-in, pay them as a fill-in. Have interns write a letter to the next intern. Keep these in a folder, real or virtual, and let interns read them when they first arrive. It'll give them another sense of your place, and their place in it. Keep in touch. This is super important. When an intern finishes their term, be sure you have a current email address and phone number, and implore them to keep you posted on their whereabouts. Put their information in a file or database with details on their performance, strengths and interests. Check in with them occasionally. And when a job opens or project develops, call them up. I've hired interns years later, even after they've landed other jobs.I welcome input, thoughts and experiences you've had as an intern or as an intern manager. Just post a comment below.[Photo by FredArmitage (cc)]*As with everything on this site, these are my thoughts alone. They may or may not reflect the opinions or practices of my employers, except where explicitly noted.
Map maker, map makerI've long been a fan of drills, and there are many more of those in our future. But by incorporating a little drill into our regular routine, we're better prepared for situations that are anything but.[Photo by IamSAM. Some rights reserved.]
In case of a civil emergency in New York, we'd want to quickly map shelters, closed roads, danger zones, escape routes. Even locate our staff. But we weren't prepared to whip together those kinds of maps in mere minutes. Now we're honing those skills by incorporating such work into everyday projects. Information integration
When news hits the fan, information flies everywhere. Consolidating that data is key ... and also happens to be handy in everyday work. In the course of discussing a Mumbai-like terror attack in NYC, we discovered that our news-editing software can also check a listener email box. That's one less window to watch. Nobody move
We designed our newsroom so that in a crisis nobody needs to change seats, which would move them away from familiar surroundings. As a byproduct, when something doesn't flow quite right during daily work, I try to make sure we address it now so we don't get caught off guard later. Expected events as prototypes
In planning for election night, and now for the inauguration, we developed tools and techniques that will serve us again in a major unexpected event. We now know how to quickly rip up our station's home page to focus on a single topic. And in order to provide real-time election-night returns, we found new ways to clear the information path between the editors and the home page. Share and share again
We share a statehouse reporter with stations across our region. So when former governor Eliot Spitzer imploded in a prostitution scandal, we didn't have to think twice about how to move information and audio between stations. We just used the FTP site and email list we use every day.
Start with dinner. Get together. Talk. Dream. Learn. Over food, of course. Don't be self-centered. You'll kill a relationship quickly if you spend all evening talking about yourself, your needs, your wants. Instead, find out about your potential partner. Learn about their hopes and dreams. Think about how they may enhance or build on yours. Don't name the baby. Put off the discussion of branding, naming the project, how credit is bestowed. This gets emotional fast, and quickly moves you out of the realm of low-risk prototyping. Put off the prenup. In fact, I'd avoid writing anything down at first -- especially anything regarding goals, directions, duties, etc. This starts to define the relationship from the outset instead of allowing for open innovation and low-risk experimentation. Respect each other. Be nice. Be giving. Be open. And if that costs a little, consider it an investment in the potential of the partnership. Pick up the check here and there. Meet up again. And again. Make a plan -- and put it in your calendar -- for the key people to meet regularly, preferably over a meal, to check in on how everyone's doing. That's the time to make sure nobody feels disrespected, over-committed, or unhappy. Then adjust accordingly. Break up gracefully. If the partnership just doesn't click, part ways, remain friends, and be sure your team gets together to learn from, and record, what parts worked.I won't kiss-and-tell about our newest collaboration, but I will say this is the approach WNYC took when we approached Iowa Public Radio back before the Iowa caucuses. We made a concerted effort to learn about them and focus on their needs. We talked a lot. We shared info and a common effort. And we didn't name the baby. The result was an amazing night of radio, and smiles all around (scroll to the bottom). It's also how we've approached a lasting relationship with the wonderful folks over at the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, where we first prototyped this kind of coverage.Happy dating![Photo by hypertypos]