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]/@lat | //place[1]/@lon"))

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

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