Can Maps Be Journalism?

Recently in my Reinventing the News class, we’ve been talking about maps as sources of information and journalism. We looked at a variety of different maps, some created by newspapers and some created by the government or independent businesses.

The first map I want to discuss is the New York Times’  “Map of the Damage From the Japanese Earthquake.” This map has four different filters: dead or missing, buildings damaged or destroyed, photos, and nuclear power plants. By leaving these options on the side of the map and having them appear on the map one at a time, it allows readers to gain a more complete understanding of the elements of destruction without overwhelming them by putting all of the information on one map.

Although some aspects of this map could be improved upon, I think this is a helpful tool that can improve the Times’ reporting. Maps like these are able to be a lot more thorough than a report could be in regards to the amount of damage to specific towns, and it allows users to visually put the various aspects of the disaster into context.

The next map I looked at was economy.com’s “Recovery Status Map.” This map is much more simple than the Japanese earthquake map. Each state in the US is divided into four statuses and colored accordingly: in recession, at risk, recovering and expanding.

At first glance, this map seems straightforward and easy to understand. Clicking on an individual state brings up an information box that explains the reason for its specific status, and has the status of each of the major cities in that state. Here is where I think the map fails as journalism, because it could be misleading. Some states that are labeled as recovering also have cities that are at risk, and there is no more detailed map that colors in the nuances of the country’s economic status by city.

Simple maps do not always have to be misleading, however. Maps created at the University of Michigan of the 2008 election start out with a simple red and blue map, but as the reader scrolls down, more maps are provided that go more in-depth and provide a variety of more accurate ways to interpret the results.

Depending on the map and the use of data, I would definitely say that maps are a good addition to traditional reporting.

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