Saturday, June 26, 2010

Better living through Internet

The big media whines incessantly about the perils and depredations of the Internet. Even so, they know they have to publish here, and they bring their art departments - if they still have them - to bear to give us traditional newspaper graphics.

Oh, sure, the New York Times pastes up some cool interactive widgets. Many of them go beyond eye candy and are actually informative. They are also well beyond the budgets of ordinary papers.

There are thousands of stories that will never contend for a Pulitzer, for which the Internet provides freely available tools to make those stories better. Any story about a particular place can put the reader there much more effectively with a clip or a link to Google Maps or Microsoft Bing or one of the other mapping sites. Sure, it might be better to send a news photographer out, but that's too heavyweight and expensive for bread and butter stories that fill out a paper.

Here's a pedestrian story about real estate and eminent domain that shrieks for illustration. In five minutes of googling, I found the Newton Assessor's database and this aerial view with approximate bounds shown:

Google Maps gives a better image, sans plot plan, here.

Imagine what I might find if I were a professional journalist! (Yes, I know there are savvy people who are professional journalists. I even know a few. I just don't get why more of their savvy doesn't find the page.)

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