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Intro to Mapping and GIS for Journalists

Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas via Independent

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Overview

In this course, you will learn the basics of telling stories with geographic data. We’ll share geographic concepts and best practices from a journalist’s perspective, including what types of datasets make good maps. Then, we’ll dive into practical skills — how to use free GIS (Geographic Information System) software to explore, analyze and visualize data. We’ll include links, tips and tricks for taking your geographic data skills to the next level.

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to think critically about when to use geographic data for storytelling and apply your skills to analyze geographic data and make your own maps.

 

Syllabus

Module 1: When to make a map

This week, we’ll talk about the basic principles of map-making and what kind of data makes a good map. We’ll also start using QGIS to explore geographic data.

This module will cover:

  • When a map can help tell a story, and when it cannot.
  • Cartographic basics — latitude and longitude, projections and scale.
  • The different types of geographic data — vector points, lines and shapes and raster images, and how to open and manipulate spatial data in QGIS.

 

Module 2: Combining geographic data

This week, we’ll dig into how and why journalists combine geographic datasets with other data to tell really great stories.

This module will cover:

  • When and why to put multiple pieces of data on the same map.
  • How to geocode data and make a dot map.
  • How to join datasets together inside QGIS to make something with a sum greater than its parts.
  • How to edit data in QGIS to make adjustments on the fly.

 

Module 3: Analyzing geographic data

This week, we will dive deeper into how you can analyze data to make more complex maps. We’ll talk about how to draw story-worthy conclusions from what you find.

This module will cover:

  • How two Washington Post journalists analyzed racial data to create amazingly detailed dot-density segregation maps — and how to use this technique with your own data.
  • Three useful ways to analyze data in QGIS: points in a polygon, dot density and point buffers.

 

Module 4: Map publication and next steps

This week, we will talk about visualizing data and learn some design principles to keep in mind when publishing maps online or in print. We’ll also discuss how to take your new geographic skills to the next level.

This module will cover:

  • How to avoid accidentally making a population density map.
  • Two methods for simplifying data.
  • How to export a map from QGIS and next steps to get it ready for publication.
  • What digital publication tools journalists and media practitioners use to tell stories with maps on the internet.

 

 

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