Open Doors and Open Data By Learning Data Jargon

One of the biggest issues journalists face when confronted with the abundance of new data sources is the vast array of jargon used by technical experts communicating the nuances of their field. The  geospatial community is particularly adept at creating obscure terminology and exotic file types. Dropping a few key terms into conversation with experts sends them a signal that you know your stuff.

The following few section present scenarios a geojournalist is likely to face on their way to publication. Follow along this story as jargon equipped journalist speaking to an editor, scientist, and designer (all in italics). Each jargon term is linked to its definition.

Pitching An Editor on Data Collection

Hi Editor, I have a lead on a great story about the status of receding glaciers. I have been talking to a group of scientists who have been studying this location and would like to file a GeoJournalism story.

Sounds like a good but story but I think we need a good way to illustrate it. You know visuals are really driving our social traffic. What ideas to you have?

I think I can get some geo-located photos using my smartphone. We can make a map of the area with photos, points of interest, and some data about the glacial retreat. All I need to do is enable location services for it to work but I will need some connection to do that. Is there money for me to bring a GPS unit with? I could certainly geo-locate my important photos by adding them as waypoints.

I don’t think we have the budget for additional equipment since we are sending you to the field and that costs money. Do you have any other ideas?

I have heard about this tool called Field Papers. Since I know where I will be going, I can print out a paper atlas of the area I am travelling, write directly on the paper and then upload my points with a QR code.

Oh really? Well that sounds like it will save us some money. Do you know what kind of data the group of scientists is working on? Your maps really need their information to be more than just a record of your travel.

Of course, I’ll schedule have a meeting with them.

Flex your Jargon Skills with Experts

Good morning. Thank you for meeting me. I’m planning a story based on your research and my publication is very interested in visualizing some of the data you’ve generated as part of your report.

That’s great but all of our data is already published online. We have shared all of the maps we create and publish the data in our journal articles and official reports. Are you sure you’ve done your homework?

True, and the articles you published contain a wealth of information. It is a great and interesting contribution. However, we cannot use JPEG files of the maps for our publication since we cannot change the design to fit our publications style guidelines nor transform the data to the appropriate image resolution for printing. Also, it is very difficult to make charts and graphics with data published in a PDF format. It adds hours to our work and we journalists don’t have hours to devote on our quick publishing deadlines.

I see. So you need the raw files to do you work? Which file formats do you need? We used both vector and raster format for our data.

It depends, we prefer vector formats like shapefiles for data that includes points of interest, roads, and the boundaries of areas. Shapefiles, KMLs, and GeoJSON (for an interactive map) work well for us. If you only have points we can also take a spreadsheet in CSV or EXL file format as long as there is some kind of geometry like coordinates included. Even with only an address or place name, we can geocode.

Raster data is great for physical observation usually created with satellite analysis and remote sensing. We prefer GeoTIFF for raster data. Gridded points, NetCDF, GRIB, and other ASCII formatted data might be beyond our design team’s skill set.

Ah, so we have lots of raster data collected via satellites. What spatial resolution are you looking for?

Since a raster dataset is similar to a digital picture and is made from pixels with unique values encoded within the file they only have one resolution. We are trying to get a very close up picture on this area around the glacier so the higher the resolution the better. Can you provide 30-meter resolution?

Why don’t you just use WMS ? We make all of our data available via a REST API and that would ensure that your information is accurate.

Similar to the issue with JPEGs and PDFs, WMS does not enable us to edit the design style of the information to help us tell a story. While
we both share the objective of informing with honest and accurate information, our audience’s needs are quite different. If you are able to make your data available in an alternative format such as GeoJSON we would be able to add style on the information.

Storytelling With A Designer

Can you tell me a bit about your process and what design choices did you made to help the data tell a story?

Sure, I had to make a couple of choices based on the information you gave me. First off I had to review each of the datasets to make sure that I could use them in my design software and if I found a problem I had to clean the data into a better format.

Second, I had to make a determination on how information should presented in a visual hierarchy so that the maps were are easier to read.

So how is integrating the official data and our field collection coming along?

Overall, it has been pretty easy. We are using the raster data files they gave us to make map of how the glaciers have receded over time and made them into map tiles. I used your field papers dataset to annotate their data with your interviews locations and photos using storymap.js. The data was good I just had to make decisions on which tools were best to present it in an understandable way.