Maps are one of the most common types of information graphics, and with the rise of data visualization and improved mapping technologies, they have become quite pervasive. Maps forecast the weather, locate the scene of a news event, or plot statistical information geographically. They are used by the government, private, and public companies and community organizations.
Road maps provide direction. Land-use maps outline a city’s zoning parameters. Topographic maps show the physical features of land. Statistical maps correlate data with location. And with the rise of GPS, Google Earth, and multidimensional digital maps, cartography has been more relevant and robust. Map-making is also interdisciplinary, combining geography, statistics, computer science, meteorology and more. Likewise, newspapers, magazines, online publication and broadcast media frequently use maps for storytelling. As a result, research and data analysis are integral for creating effective maps.
This chapter explores how technology, cartography, and storytelling converge to tell rich visual stories. It also expands on our understanding of data visualization, particularly as it applies to mapping location-based data. We’ll cover the functions of different types of maps, graphic design considerations – such as type, color, and structure – and common techniques for creating interactive digital maps. We will also look at lots of examples of how maps are used to better understand our world.
Cartography vs. journalism: There is an important distinction to be made between pure cartography – the science and practice of making maps that model reality – and journalistic map-making. Of course, accuracy is of the highest concern for both types. However, cartographers are generally concerned with modeling reality as closely and with as much detail as possible. Whereas journalists often highlight only the parts of a map that help tell a specific story, downplaying or even omitting elements that could cause confusion or clutter.
Kinds of maps: These days, most people use maps through a GPS device or mobile phone while trying to get somewhere. Just enter the address or name of your destination, and pretty accurate directions appear, complete with a nice lady who will even talk to you while you drive so you don’t miss your turns. However, as visual storytellers, we know that maps serve so many other important purposes, and there are many different types of maps, each of which has a different function. Let’s consider a few of the more common types. Maps covered include: locator maps, geological maps and statistical maps.
Map construction: Don’t worry. No one is expecting you to illustrate a neighborhood, city, state, or country by memory. In fact, even the best illustrators would struggle to do so accurately. Like any other graphic, good maps require reliable visual reference material. Your map reference should be current, and roads and boundaries should be accurate. State and world atlases, phone books that include simple area maps, county maps, and road maps are all great sources for reference. You can also purchase relatively inexpensive Adobe Illustrator files with ready-made map outlines to save time.
GIS and mapping the news: Geographic information systems (GIS) software is designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present geographical data. In news settings, GIS software has been used to plot the paths of hurricanes, map election results, pinpoint locations of environmental hazards, chronicle demographic changes, and report census data. In fact, GIS has quickly become an integral part of journalistic storytelling.