Monday, September 16, 2013

The Arrival Of Geojournalism

Tonight the Commonwealth Club asked "Does The Environment Matter?"  I was there.  It really should have asked whether journalism matters.  Traditional news media have been in decline for years.  Newspapers can't compete with the advertising reach of online media.  I think too many journalists are still enthralled with old-fashioned media doing old-fashioned beat reporting.  The new beats are all online covered by bloggers like Yours Truly.  The number of full-time journalists has declined but the amount of informed commentary available online has exploded.  Journalism is morphing into a concept that fuses data analysis, geospatial mapping, and time-series reporting.  This is the realm of the "geojournalist."

The geojournalist uses GIS tools to embed text and data within photos and maps.  This requires skills in data mining and content curation that aren't taught in journalism schools.  I think an open-source knowledge management practitioner (ahem, Yours Truly once again) qualifies as a geojournalist.  It also calls for some mobile media savvy.  I noticed one hot journalist babe at this CW Club talk tonight use her smartphone to record one of the panelist's answers.  Old-fashioned note-taking will soon give way to digital tablet notations for geojournalists who embed their stories into maps on the spot.

Some environmental media sites are doing geojournalism well.  InfoAmazonia tracks reports by map location within the amazon rain forest.  ClimateCommons adjusts US temperature data for anomalies like industrial emissions.  Internews teaches social media techniques to aspiring geojournalists in developing nations.  Interdisciplinary academic initiatives like the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication need to adapt geojournalist techniques if they want to be heard.

Other digital media can adapt to the new realities of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.  Journalists are IMHO too dependent on foundation grants and PBS money.  I've seen some filmmakers pitching ideas for short films on crowdfunding sites.  This could work for investigative journalists making documentary films that can embed into GIS maps if geojournalists think like entrepreneurs.  They need an elevator pitch to get donors' attention and market data on the size of an audience for their project.  Market data for short films is easy to find with view counts for similar content on YouTube.  I say the Society for Environmental Journalists should teach startup thinking to geojournalists.  Just ask me how to do it and I'll show you if the price is right.