Useful mapping tools for data journalism

blog watch teamBlog Watch was fortunate to be chosen as one of the participants of the Data Journalism PH 2015 from July 13-15. The three-day programme trained   journalists and citizen media on the tools and techniques required to gain and communicate insight from public data, including web scraping, database analysis and interactive visualization.  Even after the three day program, we will continue to be trained in the production of high-quality data-driven stories for publication over a period of 5 months. Thanks to Open Knowledge Foundation and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) with the support of World Bank, because we learned a lot in those three days. I can just imagine the knowledge and skills after five months and after submitting our final project.

The three day training was quite interesting to us in Blog Watch because we normally write commentaries. Using data journalism tools are quite new to us but it will be an invaluable part of our content strategy. Among the data journalism tools we dabbled with are Data Wrapper and Google Fusion. We also installed OpenRefine  which we used to clean up a spreadsheet which had been converted from PDF format through ABBY FineReader Online. It also helps get rid of white space. Yes, it is a power tool for working with messy data.

google refine

To get rid of white space, click edit cells> common transform > trim leading whitespace and >collapse (for double white space)

Data Wrapper is great for creating and publishing charts in minutes.  In the chart I created, there was too much data.



The Chart type that fits best was the bar chart.

bar chart in data wrapper


Another exercise we did was Google Fusion tables which can allow one to merge maps. An exercise I did was mapping bubbly users in the Philippines and using geolocation at the excel sheets using this forumula

=JOIN(",", ImportXML(CONCATENATE("",B3), "//place[1][email protected] | //place[1][email protected]"))

where is B is the column for location. I downloaded the excel file as .csv and uploaded it at the Google Fusion on my Google drive. Here is the output.


Google fusion map


I am really excited to use these tools not only on Blog Watch but in my other blogs as well. Here are other mapping tools that you can use .

1. DataWrapper– great for very simple world choropleths, web

A choropleth map is a thematic map in which areas are shaded or patterned in proportion to the measurement of the statistical variable being displayed on the map, such as population density or per-capita income.

2. Google charts – good for choropleths straught out of Google sheets, web.

3. Tableau – choropleths and bubble maps, export to print, expensive, desktop

4. Google Fusion Tables–  easy to use,  good geocoding, limited styling, web

5. CartoDB– easy to use, customizable cost money, web

6. Mapbox – highly customizable, costs money, web

7. TileMill– creates very stylish maps, requires knowledge of C55 , desktop

8. Folium– easiest to use mapping library for Python and iPython notebooks

9. QGis – user interface not great, very flexible and powerful, desktop

10. Leaflet.js – JavaScript library for mapping, quite technical

11. D3.js – JavaScript library for mapping, and other dataviz, technical

Kids interacting with gadgets isn’t all that bad

gadgets for kids

This is a dilemma among parents today: should they or should they not be giving their kids gadgets as toys? Our lifestyle has gone digital. It’s impossible not to have a mobile phone or tablet within arm’s reach. Parents may pride themselves on raising tech-savvy kids at such a young age, but they may also have that nagging fear if gadget use is becoming a little too much. Both pride and fear are valid, but it is of utmost importance to determine what the motivations are behind children’s interaction with gadgets, as this can determine whether the use of the gadget is beneficial or harmful to the child.

Gadget use isn’t all bad. There are advantages to having them around children. Various phone and tablet apps help brain development through learning activities. Educational games that feature puzzles, math, reading and memory experience gameplay that’s both fun and helpful to schoolwork. Some learning tools build hand-eye coordination. Others encourage creativity via art and music. Because gadgets are portable, parents can take educational fun with them everywhere they go.

It’s convenient to leave a child alone with a gadget and let him learn on his own. To encourage even more learning, play along with them and talk about what they are seeing, hearing, and trying to answer. Collaborating while using the gadget can help enhance his problem-solving skills and build social skills as well. “What is happening in the picture?,” you may ask your child as you go through an interactive storybook. Encourage him to converse while going through the learning tool together.

As with buying toys from toy shops, choose applications and learning tools that are suited for the child’s developmental stage, e.g. “Best for kids 5 and up”. This helps optimize the learning process, so it’s not too easy or too difficult for your child to follow and comprehend.

The accessibility of gadgets helps give kids quick information. Need to know the name of a specific dinosaur? Google is just a click away. Need to find out synonyms and antonyms for specific words? There’s an app for that. Gadgets helps feed kids with information, which can be beneficial to their growth as quick learners. However, with information being so readily accessible, they may lose out on critical thinking or creative problem-solving skills. It is therefore important for parents to guide and monitor how they use their gadgets for information.

Kids can practice healthy media habits earlier on with gadget use. For pre-schoolers, 30 minutes of screen time two times a day is just enough. Giving a young child a gadget during snacktime occasionally, for example, may not be harmful, but if he is handed a gadget every snacktime, he will most likely throw a tantrum if he does not get his gadget fix. Set an alarm when using gadgets, and teach them to respect time when “time is up.”

Kids interacting with gadgets isn’t all that bad, provided they are guided and supervised. Play games along with them to encourage building social skills while monitoring how they are learning. Teach them how to use technology responsibly. Talk to them about apps that have added value, versus apps that are merely repetitive and junkfood for the brain. Keeping a close eye on how kids are using gadgets can help parents better understand and act on what sites or apps should be deleted or encouraged. Technology’s growing presence in kids’ lives cannot be ignored. As kids become more and more tech-savvy at a younger age, feel free to embrace the benefits a hi-tech lifestyle gives them. For as long as the kids are guided well, gadget use can be beneficial to their learning and growth.

Photo Credit: aperturismo via Compfight cc

By Toni Tiu, as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles