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Mapping, interactively

As IRE has grown and evolved, so have the services offered to our members. Just a few years ago, one of the most common requests of our Database Library was a conversion of electronic information from tape to disc. Nowadays, Database Library staffers are working with open-source database technology, Web scraping and dynamic mapping.

Recently  we reached yet another milestone in the services we are offering our members: the Database Library can now create interactive maps for news Web sites connected to investigative projects. In our first venture, we worked with reporter and IRE board member Phil Williams and created a Google maps mashup for WTVF in Nashville, allowing site visitors to explore how gas station ownership in the Nashville metro area has become more homogenous.

Shortly after finishing the project for Williams, Database Library staff members completed an interactive map of daycare inspections in metropolitan Southeast Florida for  WFOR, Miami's CBS 4. IRE member and WFOR I-Team reporter Stephen Stock worked on the story.  Stock and his co-workers painstakingly entered more than 7,000 inspection records into Microsoft Excel for analysis.

Projects like this are a continuation of IRE's work with mapping. Maps provide journalists with a powerful tool to help their audience see and feel the story. By giving audiences for WTVF and WFOR a way to work with the information that provided a foundation for their story, the stations definitely "showed" rather than "told" their stories.

"The work of everyone at NICAR was wonderful in helping me to visualize the issues and to provide a means for our viewers to do their own research," Williams wrote in an email to IRE staff.

"I showed off the map to our morning editorial meeting and the room was ABUZZ...they were knocked off their seats," Stock wrote in a message to IRE staff. "This is a hard crowd and they were wowed! Way to go!"

Since both projects launched Nov. 18, IRE's mapping server has logged more than 348,600 hits (as of Dec. 1).

In addition to making available a collection of more than 40 federal databases to IRE members, we can assist with:

1) SQL queries and general database analysis;

2) Web scraping of some public information;

3) Mapping out data with GIS tools to explore the "where" of your story;

4) Parsing those stubborn text files into a database-friendly format.

For more information, contact the Database Library at 573-884-7711 or visit data.nicar.org.

-- Jeremy Milarsky, Database Library director

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