Apps + Code + Viz Roundup, April 24
New code, interactive features, and related analysis
The last month has brought us a spate of fresh news apps, updated and brand-new tools for journalist-developers, thoughtful analytical write-ups, and coverage of events.
MIT’s Todd Mostack built the astonishingly quick and powerful TweetMap ALPHA, a “sample big geodata exploration tool powered by MapD and World Map” in collaboration with the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA).
Gregor Aisch and OpenNews fellow Friedrich Lindenberg released dataset, a Python library that simplifies the process of storing data in databases to help Python developers on small projects move away from storing data in static files.
New Apps & Features
The Guardian created an interactive Carbon Bubble Map with jiggly bubbles showing “which nations’ stock exchanges are most exposed to the ‘carbon bubble,’” a theoretical economic condition in which today’s oil, coal, and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies will become worthless after the enactment of future climate change policies.
WNYC published a new map examining the locations in which stop-and-frisk encounters fell in New York City, and where they rose. At ProPublica, Lena Groeger and Amanda Zamora created a news app exploring US Senate votes on gun control and The New Yorker released an interactive feature displaying income equality along NYC subway lines. On Twitter, Al Shaw suggested that readers consider the NoFareHikes map as an alternate approach to visualizing income and the NYC public transit system.
The Financial Times produced Austerity Map, a “data graphic” interactive feature that accompanied its Austerity Audit package, a responsive scrolling feature accompanies by small data visualizations. FT’s Martin Stabe noted the difficulty in finding the right vocabulary for describing custom-designed multimedia features:
Also from post-Snow Fall-land, Grantland published Out in the Great Alone, a responsive scrolling illustrated multimedia interactive feature about the Iditarod Trail sled dog race. We are completely out of adjectives.
Finally, the Sunlight Foundation and Media Standards Trust jointly released Churnalism US, a web tool and browser extension that lets readers compare the contents of news stories—or any other web text—to other sources on the web, automatically flagging instances of possible plagiarism or the republishing of unedited press releases as news.
Analysis & Roundups
Matt Waite, of the University of Nebraska and the Drone Journalism Lab, wrote a post on sensor journalism for Poynter, with special attention to WNYC’s Cicada Tracker and his own experiments with inexpensive sensors.
Analyzing the high volume of information was the team’s first and central challenge. With this much data, relevant information, and good stories, cannot be found just “going and looking.” What’s needed is to use “free text retrieval” (FTR) software systems. Modern FTR systems can work with huge volumes of unsorted data, many times larger than even in this landmark investigative project. They pre-index every number, word and name, making it possible for complex queries to be completed in milliseconds. The searches are akin to using advanced features on Google or other internet search engines but are more sophisticated—and, critically, are private and secure.
The project has also been covered, less technically, on Nieman Lab.
Sisi Wei led and wrote about a redesign of the ProPublica nerd blog, and Jeremy B. Merrill wrote about why it was so difficult for the team to update their Dollars for Docs app.
Martin Belam wrote up a talk by Financial Times’ Emily Cadman on data journalism:
In some senses Emily argues that data journalism isn’t anything to do with the numbers, but is all about “problem solving and asking questions”. A decent set of questions should trigger a decent set of investigations, and provide many outputs, whether it is a graphic, an interactive, or a traditionally written piece of text.
Simon Rogers wrote up the GDELT (Global Data on Events, Location, and Tone) dataset for the Guardian Data Blog. The project, a CAMEO-coded dataset containing more than 200 million geolocated events, is intended to eventually become “a comprehensive list of every event in human history.”
Hackdays & Other Events
Last weekend, the New York Times and the GEN Editor’s Lab co-organized the fifth Editors’ Lab hackday, focused on Newsgaming. ProPublica’s Sisi Wei, Amanda Zamora, and Al Shaw wrote about their project, Heart Saver. Previous instances of the hackday were held in Buenos Aires, Paris, Schwarzach, and Cairo:
While playing the game, players are telling themselves the story we want them to tell. It becomes clear very quickly which areas have fewer hospitals with emergency departments. When an icon representing a victim lands in Woodhaven, Cypress Hills or Whitestone, Queens, the closest hospital suddenly seems very far away. Having players experience the anxiety of seeing a victim with no hospitals nearby gives them an intuitive and memorable understanding of how the lack of emergency care affects neighborhoods—much more so than they’d get from an article or an interactive map.
OpenNews Fellow Noah Veltman began documenting on GitHib the “learning lunches” he’s been conducting at the BBC:
The goal of these lunches is NOT to give tutorials on how to code or how to make specific things. There are many detailed tutorials out there, and they are much better than anything I could write. The goal is to bridge the context gap, to demystify technical topics that come up often in newsroom development. By having a high-level but concrete discussion of these different technologies, my hope is to foster more productive collaboration among developers, journalists, and designers. Reports and designers with an idea will be able to better qualify that idea and evaluate different approaches when they have a basic understanding of the technical context and tradeoffs. Armed with that context, assessing “How do we make this? How long will it take? How might we need to revise the original idea to accommodate technical tradeoffs?” becomes a more productive two-way conversation.
Ryan Graff wrote up What We Learned Hosting Three Chicago Crime Hacks, which is what it says on the tin and should be especially helpful for anyone running a hack event for the first time:
We modified the structure of the event to start at 9:30 am, saved the lighting talks for lunch, and dedicated most of the morning to a design thinking exercise, which was a huge and important change.
The exercise helped do two things: First, it got everyone’s creative juices flowing by asking them to pair up and then design a paper prototype for their partner. Each partner interviewed the other, sketched a few ideas, sought feedback, made changes and iterated on multiple designs before creating a final paper-prototype to present to the rest of the group.
What We Missed
We doubtless skipped over some excellent new projects and useful code and write-ups in this double-batch of updates. Drop your favorites in the comments or holler at us at @source.
Editor, Source, 2012-2018.