Spatial Journalism: Putting Location Into Action

By Mónica Cordero | Investigate Midwest

Using your phone to look up a restaurant review, figuring out how to get to a new location, or knowing where something is in relation to where you are – these are just three examples illustrating how location and information are more interconnected than ever.

They are also examples of the new opportunities mobile technology opens up for journalists and newsrooms to explore and engage with their communities. 

“When we think about how a community is informed, and how journalism serves its function, a big part of it is how, and where and when and why,” said Amy Schmitz Weiss, professor at San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. “But where is often very important in terms of letting people know exactly where this particular news event has happened or will happen.”

In this context, she added, location plays a bigger role than ever, interconnecting how quickly information needs are changing globally and how location is at the heart of it.

Spatial journalism may be defined as incorporating information about a place, space and/or location into the process and practice of journalism, Schmitz said. 

Some media outlets are already taking steps to make the most of the localization opportunities available through mobile technology.

​​Schmitz cited The New York Times as an example of how newsrooms are moving into spatial journalism. The Time’s research and development lab started this up about a year ago now, and its website shows a variety of experiments it has been doing, mixing reality technology to help tell stories as well as looking at ways to help journalists tell those stories. 

Schmitz emphasized that spatial journalism will continue to grow with the use of mobile technologies. One of the biggest takeaways from spatial journalism is that reporters and ethicists want guides. 

“They do want case studies, workshops and ethical codes for the future, and how location data can be considered within the news context,” Schmitz said. “And so I think this poses an interesting moment for the industry to be forward-looking, proactive in this effort to help newsrooms across the country to figure out exactly what might be the best way to approach this going forward because location data is only going to continue to grow and evolve.”

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