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Geographic information systems: a use case for journalists “…Speak with a few GIS professionals and a common theme will emerge: they struggle to explain to their loved ones exactly what it is they do. Many of us understand superficially that GIS has something to do with ‘mapping’ and ‘geography’, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Similar to how tools such as spreadsheets or databases are used to manipulate, summarise, query, edit, and visualise information, GIS allows the same operations to take place — but with the addition of a spatial dimension, connecting your data to a location in space. For example, if you had a database of all homes built in your community, it might contain details about each house’s features, such as the year it was built, the number of floors, the total living space, the value of the property, when a building permit was last issued, and much more. With this information you could derive all kinds of interesting insights about the makeup of homes in your community. By adding geocoded home addresses to this database, you would now have the ability to evaluate these homes based on their physical location to one another, on their density in certain areas, as well as their proximity to certain landmarks, such a landfill or a train station. This is GIS in its simplest form…GIS technology and concepts are all around us and have real-world consequences. The following are just a few examples that are of great public interest:

  • emergency services dispatching
  • forestry management
  • traffic and public transportation management
  • flood forecasting and climatology
  • housing development
  • epidemiology and public health
  • online food order and ridesharing services
  • mail and parcel delivery services.

Any journalist hoping to closely scrutinise policy decisions emanating from these areas would be well served by learning the same tools and concepts that drive many of those very decisions. This is GIS-driven journalism in response to the rise of GIS in society. This is no different than a traditional political reporter learning basic accounting principles in order to make sense of government budgets and annual reports…”

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