Mapping local news

I am so excited to see the Press-Citizen use mapping to talk about a local policy issue. This is great!

In a story today about a new — and controversial — plan to create a new business district by increasing some property taxes of local shops, stores, bars, and whatever else, PC online editor Patrick Riepe used to mark which property owners were “for” or “against” the new business plan.

The red pins are those who signed a petition to seek a new business/tax venture. Blue stands for those who did not sign it.

Then, he plotted the votes on a map. Not only does this map show how people “feel” about something, but it shows clusters of opinions in the downtown.

Just so you know, the map’s fine print reads:

A map showing property owners who have and have not signed a petition to ask the Iowa City Council to approve a Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District in downtown Iowa City. Not all property owners were approached about signing the petition.

I could do a whole semiotic, visual discourse analysis thingamado on this, but I am mostly excited to see that mapping has made its way into presenting interesting news about what otherwise could be a boring topic.

The best news is that Riepe said he “built the whole thing in about 20 minutes, and if I were to do it again, it would maybe take 10.”

What that means, I hope, is that technology has gotten to the point where journalists can easily — and quickly — enhance coverage to meet new media needs, but also to find new ways of storytelling.

In his own words, Riepe gives us a glimpse at a moment when local news became something bigger — and better — by looking deeper at the news, finding deeper stories, and going about it in new and exciting ways.

I asked him why they chose to use a map for this story. Here’s what he said:

Honestly, we were looking for a trend – a trend that you wouldn’t be able to glean from a list of addresses. By putting it on a map and color coding it, you could tell if a certain part of downtown was supportive or not. For instance, the northside businesses didn’t warm up to it, and you could see that on the map instantly. Without the map, you wouldn’t have been able to explore that without purposefully going through and checking individual addresses, which would be time-consuming. Put it on a map, and you see possibilities that you wouldn’t have considered before.

I wanted to do other things with it, but didn’t have time. For instance, plot by property value to see if the wealthy property owners had a different level of support from the not-so-wealthy. It would be a bit more tricky to map, but not real hard.

I was just happy to find the site, because it really streamlines the process. And it’s really easy to put it up on your own site, although you could use it as a reporting tool and not republish if you like.

I just hope it stays free 😉