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Maps and Journalism Make for Powerful Storytelling

Posted by Barbara Fordyce on

If a picture is worth a thousand words in a news story, what's a map worth?

A lot, it turns out, and growing, according to major journalism educators.  The ability to produce compelling and informative map graphics has become another helpful asset for journalists. In addition to learning to interview and write stories, supply photographs, sound, and videotape, modern journalists are becoming schooled in the use and preparation of maps.

Maps and the News Graphics Department

Clip art and stock maps, such as the vector maps published by Map Resources, have been a part of the news graphics room since desktop publishing got its start in the 1980's. With Adobe Illustrator as the host, graphic artists acquired stock maps, then edited the image to coordinate with current news stories. 

The high print quality of vector graphics make great images for print journalism.  Plus the ability to quickly revise the maps for varied stories is important.

The current trend, especially for regional publications, is to get a custom vector map of the area they cover made to their specs.  This gives them instant access to a resource they can use over and over again.

Journalism and GIS

High quality vector maps are still popular with news organizations, but journalists are now moving into the area of GIS mapping to create highly informative maps to illustrate their stories.

No longer haphazardly relying on available map graphics to supplement their stories, reporters can now suss out available data that is pertinent to the story, then compile it into a relevant, informative map.

To support this effort, there's a growing number of resources available for journalists.

StoryMapJS is a free online tool developed at Knight Lab.  The Knight Lab at Northwestern University is a community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces.

StoryMap tells users how to incorporate media from many popular sources such as Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Google Maps, Wikipedia, etc. Plus it offers helpful tips on assembling these resources to create clear and compelling stories.

StoryMap has been used by numerous journalists, and the stories have appeared in prominent publications such as the Washington Post, Times of London, Minneapolis Post.


ESRI offers a similar productivity application, with a similar title, Story Map. 

Arc's Story Map provides a long list of helpful tutorials with advice for effective storytelling, mapmaking, design questions, plus a lot more.  They also start with a selection of templates users can choose from.

Any licensed user of ArcGIS can log on to use the Arc Story Map application.  There's also a free public version available for non commercial and non governmental uses.

Want to Learn More?

The Global Investigative Journalism Conference is the world’s largest international gathering of investigative reporters, and it's a great place to get the latest news on journalism mapping resources. Known as the "World Expo for Muckrakers", the conference is held every 2 years, and the next one is taking place in this year in Hamburg, Germany. 

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