Newspapers and GIS

By Directions Staff

The newspaper industry was among the early adopters of mapping technology.GIS has been of critical importance on the "business" side of the industry.As newspapers developed the technical means to vary their advertising by delivery zone, mapping was instrumental in profiling the audience that would be delivered by different geographic "buys".The penetration of GIS into the editorial (content) side of newspapers has been a bit longer in coming.Here's how two major news dailies use GIS to support editorial content and investigative reporting.

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee

Anna Byrd Davis is a projects reporter at The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' leading business daily.She uses MapInfo Professional to aid both the development of stories and their presentation in the paper.

"We have been looking at the issue of people leaving the delta," Davis said.This is a trend which began in World War I, grew more intense in WW II, and continued in the sixties with the mechanization of cotton and soybean production.

"We're using Census Bureau annual county population numbers to analyze these trends," Davis explained."The map may never get into the paper, but it helps us understand what is going on."

Ms.Davis produces a map for each weeks Sunday Op-Ed pages in support of one of the paper's stories.Here's a recent example:

Caption: Teen birth rates in the Americas
In the United States, the birth rate among girls aged 15 to 19 years has declined sharply during the 1990s, yet remains higher than that of other more-developed countries.In 1997, the rate dropped to 52.3 births per 1,000 girls, according to a new report from the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.The worldwide average was 58 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 years, according to the U.S.Census Bureau.Canada, with a rate of 24 births, was more typical of industrialized nations.Nicaragua ranked No.1 in the Americas with 169 births per 1,000 teenagers.

She also supplies maps to illustrate news stories.The Commercial Appeal's election coverage is now always accompanied by a map showing precinct voting patterns.Readers find the map presentations far easier and quicker to understand than tables of numbers.And a recent story about car theft was bolstered by a map using police department data.

Sun-Sentinel, Ft.Lauderdale, Florida

Ft.Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel, a daily in the Tribune Newspaper Network, uses MapInfo intensely in investigative reporting.John Maines is the mapping expert in the paper's Editorial Research Department.The Sun-Sentinel uses MapInfo Professional, along with an application written with ESRI's MapObjects.

A construction project in the community of Pembroke Pines led a number of residents to complain of damage to their homes from blasting at the project.The Sun-Sentinel hired an engineer to inspect the damaged homes and to report whether the damage was blasting related or not.Then Maines geocoded the results, thematically displaying the homes around the project as "blasting damaged" or not.

"When we finished the work, we saw that of the 450 damaged houses, more than 2/3 of them were damaged not by the development project, but by faulty construction," reported Maines.

In a 1997 investigation of 911 response, the paper obtained records of every ambulance call in Broward county.Plotted on a map along with response times, the records indicated that the county was not providing the coverage they claimed.

"What it came down to was they didn't have enough stations," said Maines."You could see it on the map!" Maines reports that although county officials disputed his team's findings, the Board members who supported the ambulance company were voted out of office.

The Sun-Sentinel has recently transitioned from a mainframe to a PC-based system on the editorial side, implementing an intranet in the process.The paper developed a mapping application using ESRI's MapObjects which is designed to allow reporters to create maps directly themselves, without Mr.Maines' assistance.

The first use of this system is to deliver demographic information quickly and easily to reporters.

"For instance, they can see a map of all schools in the county.Clicking on the school they're after will pop up a window with all the information on the school: the superintendent, the enrollment, other demographic information," says Maines."Now we're inputting demographics about the towns we cover: population, membership of the town council, the town's history."

Published Friday, May 14th, 1999

Written by Directions Staff

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