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Mapping the News

Posted by Barbara Fordyce on

Do you use maps to Illustrate news stories? Even with all the high tech data mapping, and fancy online cartography services available, there's often still a need for the newsroom graphics department to come up with an informative map graphic to accompany a story.  This is because a well made map graphic plays a huge role in communication. It first draws the reader in, provides some perspective, then clarifies the detail.  All this even before the reading starts!

Locator maps, the workhouse map graphic

Who, what, when, why and where.... the 5 basic questions every journalist uses.  It's no wonder news outlets favor locator maps because they give a straightforward answer to the question of "Where". 
If you've never created a locator map.... here's a quick lesson.
Think about the area your story is focused on, and what geographic areas are involved.  Basic rule of thumb is to zoom out for perspective, zoom in for detail.  For local US news, a state map inset showing general location, with an enlargement showing detailed area usually works. Stories based on natural features, such as rivers or mountain ranges, probably warrant a regional map that spans political boundaries, alongside a more detailed map that emphasizes the physical features.  Similarly world news can be illustrated with a general map to show overall placement, then a detailed zoom on the subject areas.
Here's how the current situation of US-Iran conflict can be illustrated by simply customizing a few off-the-shelf maps. 
I started with a simple world map with countries from Map Resources. By highlighting Iran on this world map, the location of the country is instantly made clear.  To highlight,  I opened the map file in Adobe Illustrator,  selected the Iran county object, and added color.  To further attract the viewer's attenion, I enlarged the "Iran" label and made it bold.
I want the viewer to be able to grasp details about the local area, so I select a more detailed map of the Middle East.  But too much detail can overwhelm the viewer, so I removed layers that are not important to the story.  This was done by simple turning off the Illustrator layers. Removing excess detail makes the graphic easier to comprehend. 


The first image shows the original map.  In the second image, you can see many of the place names and roads are removed. The Strait of Hormuz, which did not appear on the original map, is added, using the text tool in Illustrator. In this simpler graphic, it's easy to comprehend Iran's relative size compared to surrounding neighbors, it's proximity to Saudia Arabia and other gulf countries, and the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz, where much of the news is focused on.

Once the map graphics are established, use call out text or captions for special information or points you want to make.
A few other pointers for creating your map image.
- Start with a vector map. You will get high resolution print image, even if you resize.
- Make sure you can turn feature layers  on or off.  It's likely you're working on a tight deadline, so you want your editing to be fast.
- Colors should be recessive.  Unless your design requires a vivid color scheme, stick to light, basic colors because the information will be more prominent.
- If you're publishing in b&w, make sure you get the figure/ground right.  Here's a great figure/ground tutorial from ESRI.
- You can get vector maps that are fully editable at Map Resources.  You can purchase online, download immediately, get right to work on creating your map graphic, and meet your publishing deadline.

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