Tag Archives: tempmad

Breadth Portfolio: Part 1 – Maps and Forms

In this series of posts I’ll share part of the report I wrote for the MA Online Journalism’s Multimedia Journalism module, in which I describe some experiments I developed in the last months. I’d appreciate some feedback and ideas on this.

Maps and Forms

One of the most interesting phenomena in online journalism is how media can easily be left out of the process of delivering the news: they are no longer the source of information to a wider audience, but most times sit on the sidelines trying to grasp what is going on before their eyes. As we have learned with breaking news stories, it has been the crowd, the common users, that have revealed events to the world faster, more accurately and in a more diverse fashion than “regular” media is able to.  We saw that happen with the Hudson River airplane near-crash, lots of earthquakes from China to Haiti, with the demonstrations in Iran. All were relevant for different reasons, but their dissemination to a wider audience has a few points in common: social networks, and the absence of media, at least in the very first instants.

I’ve been defending for a while that journalists are no longer mediators between fact and public, but news DJs that remix the information available, building on preexistent content, generated by users, authorities, and other media.  Yet, media seem to fail to gather and organize this torrent of information.

When on the 20th of February a storm hit Madeira Island, causing mudslides and floods, the silence on most news websites, radios and TV stations was deafening. But on Twitter there were accounts from local people about what was going on, and, above all, they had videos. The event was being tagged as #tempmad, so it was easy to follow all the developments, but the information seemed to be too scattered to get a real picture of what was going on in the island, and since there was no one organizing the information available, I decided to create a map on Google[ii], to place videos, pictures and other relevant information.

Starting off with links to YouTube videos published by witnesses on location, and asking for more content, I quickly put the map together and made it available to everyone and although it hadn’t many items, it started to get hits at an impressive rate. Since it was Saturday, and most newsrooms were empty, it was the only visual representation online of the events in the first hours, and it was used by some Portuguese media[iii] in their coverage of the event (more specifically, two national newspapers and public television). It got 10.000 views in the first hours and reached 30.000 in just two days. One month later, it has the impressive number of 77 thousand visits.

Madeira Map

But that was relatively easy, since all I had to do was to place and embed the video and photographic content available into the map. When I started collaborating on the second day with an impromptu team that was aggregating data about the floods in a Netvibes website[iv] created by IT student, I started thinking about how to create ways to make information available in real time, or with the direct participation of the community. We were already trying to create lists of missing people, when doubts started about the number of dead. So we asked people to share the information they had, and since we couldn’t be waiting for that information to show up on the timeline, I created a form[v] where people could – with some detail – give out the names, residence and origin of the victims, and where they were found. Rumors placed the number of dead around the hundred, but final count marks 43, and that form was useful to have some grasp on reality. The form would then feed a spreadsheet automatically, placed on the website.

I also installed two maps, one giving the number of dead by district[vii], fed through a spreadsheet that automatically placed the marks in the right geolocation; the other was a recent Umapper development, showing geolocated tweets[ix] using the referred #tempad tag. These were easy to set and place and I think they did their job quite well.

It is hard to present a structured research for this assignment about this situation. The technical skills required are not that demanding, and the most rewarding and interesting tools for live mapping did not apply or were too complicated to put into use in a breaking news operation. But as geolocation gains more and more relevance in the production and sharing of content, the standards for online news coverage start to revolve around the concept.

One of the things that struck me is that despite these are tools available for free and easy to use, media don’t take advantage of them. It was really fast to deploy these features on the website, and there wasn’t much science involved, all that is required to respond in a breaking news situation. GoogleDocs are simple to use, and the latest developments allowed them to become almost “just-add-water” apps. What is the real challenge is to choose the right way to present information. It’s the journalist’s discerning view that will make the difference between good and bad web-based newsgathering.

Links and references

[ii]Google Map

[iii] Post with media references http://tinyurl.com/y9wdu3t

[iv] Netvibes website http://tinyurl.com/yhb8zux

[v] Form on page http://tinyurl.com/yhb8zux

[vii] Death Map (on top) http://tinyurl.com/yhb8zux

[ix] Ummaper tweet map at the end of the post  http://tinyurl.com/yapktkz

The Madeira Floods: GoogleMaps, GoogleDocs, Twitter and community


Last weekend’s floods in Madeira became a case study on the role of social media and common citizens in spreading news and data in case of disaster. I’ll be writing a few posts about some things I did to help cover the event, and how traditional media was left far behind in the stream of information. Again.

The Event

Saturday, 20th February. Madeira island is hit by a storm, raining more in two hours than in a whole month. Waves of mud drag rocks, houses and cars down the hills, ending up in downtown Funchal where the rivers meet, flooding buildings, and swallowing whoever failed to escape the fury of the waters.  Twitter was hectic with accounts of destruction, questions about what was going on, and, maybe a sign to take in consideration, videos. The traditional media was slow to respond: besides a few breaking news stories in some news websites, there wasn’t much for the information starved users. If you wanted to know what was going on you had to follow the #tempmad hashtag, fed by descriptions of locals that witnessed tragedy unfold right on their doorstep.

Lots of links to YouTube started to appear in the timeline – there were NO photos available in the first hours, and pictures wouldn’t make any justice to the dimension of the disaster. Video was the first instinct for the majority of users – and there was constant retweeting of the scarce information available, most of it provided by one user, @lindamachado, that became the main figure in the eye of the Twitter storm. But besides Twitter, there were no news to be found anywhere else. Portuguese public cable news channel was the only main media trying to do a coverage of the events, resourcing to – guess what? – Twitter, my map (i’ll talk about it in a bit), YouTube videos, and phone interviews, that were hard to make because the storm disrupted the service in many parts of the island.

We have to look at the specific circumstance that allowed social networks to become the main source and channel for all the news about the flood: it was Saturday, shortly after lunch. People had free time, they didn’t have to go to work, and the newsrooms were in weekend mode, which means even more understaffed. To tell you the truth, for most televisions and newspapers, real coverage began on Monday. Until night news around dinner time, there was almost no new data  about the tragedy in mainstream media, while was starting to gain unforeseen proportions.

Google maps and docs

When I saw the first tweets i immediately thought about creating a Google map to aggregate some information and videos, so people could see all the available information that was getting diluted in the Twitter stream (it’s the map above). All i had to do was to fish for YouTube links and relevant info, and asked users following  #tempmad to contribute. Although in the beginning i didn’t have many contributions, the map generated lots of interest: it showed up and was referenced in the public national TV live coverage, and it was embedded in two major newspaper websites. In the first hours it had more than 10.000 views, reaching 30.000 in the first 48 hours. This proves how huge was the demand for information that traditional media weren’t able to provide.

Then i noticed there was a website created on Netvibes that was also trying to gather all the scattered information on twitter, other websites and forums. I joined efforts with the author of the website, a process i’ll explain in a different post, and added my map to the website. Recently, i added a few more features using mapping tools and google forms and docs.

Since there was a problem with the number of victims (bodies keep showing up but the numbers are going down) we decided to ask the community to report the deaths they knew. For that I built a small form, to cross-reference with the official data. It took 5 minutes to set up the form, and feed the results into the page. I also wanted to use a map for the official results, and i created a new one, based on a spreadsheet. Every time the number changes, all we have to do is to edit the spreadsheet, instead of a live edit on GoogleMaps. What i’ll try to do is to layer the different information in one single map, if you have any ideas to do that let me know.

Another novelty I read about yesterday and just had to use, was the Umapper feature that allows to get tweets from a specific location. I used it to show tweets with #tempmad from Madeira, as you can see below:

With the perspective of more rain for this weekend this map might come in handy to visualize the ongoing events.

This series will continue with the analysis of the work of an improvised team. Stay tuned.

Map Madeira #tempmad


I’ve been working on this map for a while now about the storm and landslides in Madeira. I managed to help some media in Portugal, and beat most of them. So far there are 31 deads, and 60 injured, but the numbers are expected to rise. Work in progress, and it can be embedded anywhere.

Meanwhile, Público, one of the most important newspapers in Portugal, asked to use my map.


Jornal de Noticias, another major newspaper, is also using the map

More pics and videos

Fotos + Videos






Gregório Cunha