The future of journalism: real-time story maps

An Oregon forest manager uses a real-time map to monitor an area with more than 100 sensors and cameras. Real-time story maps: that’s what data journalism should look like during ‘breaking news’ events.

Data journalism is around for a while now, and there has been quite some experimenting. Especially with interactive maps. The Guardian Datablog has some nice experimental examples (including visuals with a quite intimidating mathematical aura).

Real-time story maps: this is actually what youtube should look like.

Likewise, Real-time coverage of breaking events isn’t new. We got used to a vast amount of user-generated content.

So it is only a matter of time that these two – interactive maps and real-time coverage – are brought together. With a recent experiment in an Oregon forest (United States of America), real-time story maps for breaking news events has come really close. Real-time story mapping is also an interesting tool for environmental journalists.


1. Story maps for Datajournalists

The HJ Andrews Experimental Forest Dashboard shows real-time data from 125 different sensors. The sensors are all placed in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. Basically it is set up to support research on forests, streams and watersheds.

Storymap with 125 sensors for monitoring - the future of journalism

The Experimental Forest Dashboard uses 125 sensors to monitor an area in real-time.

Yes, I know, these sensors still look intimidating to most audiences. It’s about the concept of the story map. The dashboard shows great potential for following news events in real-time.

The demonstrations in Kiev, Ukraine were covered from all angles, and during the riots it was possible to follow several live broadcastings, from both sides of the conflict.

Real-time map: this is what journalism looks like during 'Breaking News' events in the future

Real-time journalism during ‘Breaking News’ events: an impressionist drawing of Kiev.

Imagine what a real-time story map could add to that news coverage. This is actually what youtube should look like during all breaking events. A story map definitely adds spatial context to the data streams (I made this infographic-like drawing as a teaser for this article, you get the idea).

2. Story maps for environmental journalists

The story mapping technology in the Andrews project is developed by Esri. Obviously the technology has potential for environmental journalism – not so much for the storytelling, but for the research that can be done. Especially if more stations will publish what their sensors are monitoring in real-time. (The Andrews sensors for example monitor watershed, weather changes and CO2 concentration).

3. Story maps for all-round reporters

Real-time cameras and sensors are pretty boring, unless there is action (yes, we all want to see this fox giving birth, or that bird’s nest being build… Alright, here is a link to all those lovely nest cams, hole cams, and wildlife-watch-them-yawn-cams. Knock yourself out.)

But a story map without the live element can still add to your storytelling. It deepens the context if your audience can follow the locations of your story, while reading.

Knightlab has an easy to use (and well designed) story map tool available.

Another example is how Global Forest Watch uses a story map to monitor the forests world wide. The data is not in real-time.

Storymap tool by the Knight Lab - future of journalism

The Knight Lab story map tool adds to your story


Interactive story map - no real time footage - futur of journalism

Interactive story map by Global Forest Watch – no real-time footage


Stijn Postema

Stijn Postema is a journalism lecturer and freelance reporter from the Netherlands. He has a background in journalism, arts and design.

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6 Responses

  1. Bram says:

    Storymaps are indeed a nice way to tell a story. I use it myself to support my website about mountain biking. Look at this custom sample at: More story maps on #.
    More information about mountain biking in the Netherlands can be found on my website:

  2. Eddie Cepero says:

    Nice article! I will love to make a real-time story map. We have been doing story maps for an online newspaper for almost two years. Very well received by the users.
    This is the link

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