How To: Create a Thematic Map

October 31, 2016

Here’s a guide to creating your own heat map, adapted from this tutorial.

Getting the data into a Fusion Table

  1. Import the dataset (a .csv list of insects from Google)
  2. Sign in to Google Drive, click “New,” and in the menu, go to More > +Connect More Apps
  3. Type “fusion tables” in the search bar and click the Connect button
  4. Click New > More > Google Fusion Tables
  5. In the window, browse to find your .csv and click Next. Review how the data looks and click Next
  6. Give it a name and click Finish
  7. Check out your table of data and images

Map the data

  1. Click the “map of latitude” tab at the top of your table
  2. Click the dots in the map to view individual entries’ data
  3. The Google tutorial also provides directions for making those pop-up windows more readable. Scroll down to “customize the info window template” and try it out!

Make a heat map

  1. Download the “population” and “states.kml” files I’ve sent you
  2. Create a new fusion table with this file
  3. Click the map tab in the spreadsheet, and Fusion Tables will geocode the locations (states) you’ve provided as points
  4. In a NEW window (important), upload “states.kml” – go through same steps to create a second Fusion Table
  5. In the uploaded “population” Fusion Table, click File > Merge
    • Select “states”
    • This table: Region – states: Name – click Next
    • Uncheck “description” and “id” and click Merge
  6. To change from dots to shapes, click “change feature styles” in the left menu and select Polygons > Fill color
  7. Select “Gradient” and change to 5 with the listed values.
  8. You SHOULD get a map with states shaded in colors that are darker with higher population levels
  9. Try searching for other state data and mapping it (use the filetype:.csv to help out)

Read & Respond week 12 – Audio

October 28, 2016

When we think blogging, we think writing. Recent weeks have emphasized images and other tools, but things still seem to come back to the written word. Briggs, in this week’s chapter, proposes some ways to emphasize sound over sight. We’ll focus on one: Podcasting.

A podcast is essentially an audio blog. Instead of reading, you can download and listen, which is helpful if you like to do your “reading” while exercising, cooking, or doing something else. The process can be simple or complex, but it boils down to four basic steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Record
  3. Convert/Upload
  4. Promote

This guide from DigitalTrends gets into more detail, but at minimum you need a theme (and usually some guests), a topic, a mic, and a (free) copy of Audacity; anything more can give a cleaner, more polished product but isn’t absolutely necessary.

Audiences listen to podcasts via apps such as Stitcher (free), iTunes, or just listening to them streaming online. Consider these examples of the form:

Your response this week should be enjoyable: Listen to some podcasts, especially if you never have. Pick some from the links above, or find some of your own (Buzzfeed has its own list of the ones you should be listening to). How do these (and Briggs’ other audio subject) inform your work? Have you now decided blogging is dead, and you’re going to become a podcaster instead? Post your responses by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 30.

How-To: Make a Google Map

October 26, 2016

Today we’re making maps! At the bottom of this how-to, you’ll see a sample map of our own beloved Evansdale Crossing, made by following these very steps. Follow along and create your own!

Making the map

  1. Sign in to Google and go to
  2. Click the menu icon to the left of the search bar and select “Your Places” from the drop-down menu, then click “MAPS”
  3. Select “Create Map” (at the bottom of the left bar)
  4. In the new window, click “Untitled map” to give it a title and description
  5. Add places: Search a place address, click the marker, and select “+ Add to map” in its pop-up window
  6. Make changes by clicking a placed marker:
    1. Edit (the pencil icon) lets you change the title and description of a place. You can also add links () with HTML.
    2. Style (the paint bucket icon) lets you change the color and design of map markers. You can also upload your own designs, if you’re fancy.
    3. Add Image or Video (the camera icon) lets you … well, I think you can figure that one out.
    4. You can also add points of your own by selecting the “Add marker” icon (under the search bar) and clicking to place new map markers.
  7. Add lines and shapes
    1. Click the line/shape button and click points – double-click to finish
    2. Can name/describe your lines and polygons (shapes) in the same way as map markers.
    3. Style:
      1. Click lines to change color and thickness
      2. Click polygons to change color, border thickness, and transparency.
  8. Trash an element by selecting it and clicking the trashcan in its window

Adding group members

  1. Click “share” in top left menu
  2. Under “Invite collaborators,” add email addresses
  3. Choose what they can do: “Can view” or “Can edit”

Embed the map in your blog

  1. Click “share” and change settings from Private to “Public on the Web” (this allows any reader of your blog to see it), then click Done.
  2. Placing the map:
    1. Position the map how you want it to appear on your blog
    2. Click the three dots next to “Share” in the top left menu > Select “Set default view”
    3. Click them again and select “Embed on my site”
    4. Paste the resultant line of code directly into a WordPress blog post and preview to see if it looks the way you want it.
    5. WordPress has changed, requiring some extra work. This next part is a little tickly…
      1. This code comes from the map embedded in this post): iframe src=””; width=”640″ height=”480″
      2. Replace the <> with []
      3. Delete the /iframe tag and its <>
      4. Get rid of the quote marks and the semicolon (“” and ; )
      5. Replace iframe src= with googlemaps
      6. change width and height to w and h; get rid of quote marks around the numbers; and eliminate all spaces from this section (so width=”640″ height=”480″ becomes &w=640&h=480)

Advanced map shaping

  1. Don’t like the shape of your map? Notice the details of that code:
    1. (this code comes from the map embedded in this post): iframe src=””; width=”640″ height=”480″
  2. See those “width” and “height” values? Right now it’s a horizontal rectangle, but you can change that! Try some different values to get the shape you want.

The final product!


Read & Respond week 11: Images

October 21, 2016

This week is all about visuals. In Briggs’ chapter on visual storytelling, think about his advice and note the example experts he gives. Some of you have been incorporating visuals into your work from the start, and others have yet to do so. Regardless of your use of visuals so far, how might your blogs tell a story that is more visual than textual? Yes, photos are ONE possibility – what are others? Skim around this list and identify some options you might be able to apply to making your blogging more visual.


  • Some of you are photographers. Many of you aren’t. Here’s a crash course on using a point-and-shoot camera for your blog (from Mindy McAdams’ excellent Journalists’ Toolkit)
  • Photoblogs: These blog-like formats are focused on image sharing. Sites like Cake Wrecks hit big a few years back, but there are more serious efforts like the Boston Globe’s The Big Picture.
  • Tumblr provides a resource for frictionless sharing of images. Check out some of 2015’s best (or these ones that are just weird).



Sure, they’re short and silly, but journalists use them too. Is confining an idea to a seconds-long clip any stranger than limiting it to a 140-character tweet, or a six-second Vine?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 23, as a comment to this post.

Read & Respond week 10: Comment Culture

October 13, 2016

This week we’ll be talking about talking: How to get people talking about your work (promotion) and how to deal with those who are talking about it (commenters). The links you’ll be looking through touch on each of these areas. Lots of material here, so skim to the stuff that serves you.


  • How do you promote your blog? Start with this list – we’ve already discussed several (commenting elsewhere; building long-term content). Pay particular attention to the Rule of 100.
  • Learn about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Jeff Goins offers some tactics for writing SEO heds and posts, but beware – there can be a fine line between SEO and Clickbait.
  • (Then again, maybe it’s all Clickbait…)
  • Are you using Twitter as a tool or still just tweeting about mozzarella sticks with your buddies? If you just can’t adulterate your personal account, consider making a separate one to get your professional name out there.


Remember to respond to these readings in a comment to this post by  11:59 p.m. on Sunday, October 16. More importantly, come prepared to discuss these examples and, ideally, some of your own.

Your Group Blog Project (fall 2016)

October 12, 2016

Beginning in two weeks (Sunday, October 23) and continuing through the end of the term, you’ll create, maintain, and promote a group blog that tackles a local and contemporary trend, topic, or theme in a journalistic way. You’ve already been assigned a team and started brainstorming, but now it’s time for greater specifics. You will:

  1. Provide original content through your own reporting and analysis
  2. Connect with and engage your community of interest

This is a team project requiring everyone’s strengths. The result should be a robust and engaging addition to your portfolio that will set you apart in the job market. If everyone does their own thing and there is no cohesive focus to the blog, you will do poorly.

Don’t. Just don’t.

There will be no restaurant, local entertainment, advice, or graduation-themed blogs unless specifically approved by Prof. Britten. Blogs focused on profiles are not recommended. Unsourced lists are frowned upon. Do not use clichés such as “eclectic” or “something for everyone” – define a focus and an audience. Posting recipes will bring swift retribution.

Weekly requirements:

You will be judged on the frequency and quality of your posts, comments, and other demonstrable contributions to your online publication. In addition, if your teammates report you’ve become a significant asset (or weakness), that matters as well.

  • Individual posts: Every person is expected to post at least once per week, and each blog is expected to have a post every weekday.  Your groups must each arrange and follow a posting schedule to ensure regular updates throughout the week (Monday-Thursday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.). If you miss your deadlines, you will get lowered (or no) credit for that post.
  • Weekly budget: By 5 p.m. every Sunday (beginning October 23), your group will email me a single budget for the current week and following week. It must include the following:
    • Current week: Which stories are you going to run, when (day, date & time), who will write each, and a brief description of each story.
    • Following week: Same information as above.
    • Longer term: Identify which big or longer-term stories you are pursuing.
    • Promotion: What will your group do this week to publicize your blog and connect to a larger community? (This might involve posting to social media but should also involve HOW you post – experiment with time, wording, etc.)
  • Weekly memo: By 9 p.m. every Sunday (beginning October 30), each person will send me a weekly memo assessing your work so far and what’s to come. It must include the following:
    • Post: Provide details and a link to your work.
    • Comments: You will make 5 meaningful comments per week (not all on the same day!), divided between your group blog, other class blogs, and some outside blogs of interest (which is good way of attracting like-minded bloggers to your site). Link to these in your weekly memo.
    • Added Value: A plain-text post adds only one level to the conversation. That’s not enough. I expect to see you using your skills with links, images, maps, audio, wikis, and more, as well as integrating the site and its promotion into other social media like Facebook and Twitter.
    • Your Grade: Provide an honest grade for your work in the preceding week as a percentage score (e.g., 82%). Base your grade only on that week, and include an explanation of why you have earned the grade you propose.
    • Group Grade: Provide an honest grade for your group as a percentage score, and explain where the group struggled or shined in the preceding week.

How You’re Evaluated:

As noted above, each Sunday (beginning October 30) each student will send me an e-mail memo assessing the previous week. You’ll also include short updates on your experience thus far and your blogging plans for the week ahead. I use this to grade your quality of work, so if you’ve done more than just post, tell me about it!

You’ll get a grade for each week’s worth of work, which includes your weekly post, contribution to the group memo, and any extra work you do (note this in your memo). If you like to think in terms of points, imagine that I score in roughly the following way:

  • 40%: Content — Is it interesting? Relevant to your blog’s focus? Fresh?
  • 30%: Connection — Quality and relevance of the link(s) you included in the post
  • 30%: Mechanics — Grammar, spelling, punctuation and appropriate style
  • Bonus points! … for HTML, outside comments, etc.—beyond-the-call stuff. If you’re the editor-in-chief or have other special duties, let me know!

Because you’re each only expected to post once a week (more is allowed), I’ll expect the writing and ideas to be especially sharp – we’re not looking for long reviews. What matters more than the number of posts is the overall quality of the body of work.

First due dates:

  • A revised blog concept statement (your “About” page) and list of five possible ideas for your first posts (one page from each member) – due as a single six-page packet from the group in-class Monday, October 17
  • Your group blog’s URL and About page with a focused mission statement – must be posted (email the URL) by the start of class Wednesday, October 19
  • First budget: Email me this list of topics and dates for your first two weeks of postings (see above for explanation). It’s your first week, so this may change, but it must be thorough and complete – due 5 p.m. Sunday, October 23
  • Your group’s first post: Must be posted between 9a – 4p, Monday, October 24

Group Assignments

Available here.

One more thing:

In addition to creating a blog, you’ll need to add all your group’s members as authors (you may all be administrators or just choose one member for this role). Follow these steps:

  • In Dashboard, select “Users” from the left bar
  • Under “Invite New,” enter the new user’s preferred email address
  • Choose the new user’s role (contributor, administrator, editor, or author)
  • Click “Add user”

How To: Build a Simple Data Scraper

October 5, 2016

We’ve seen how to use spreadsheets to work with data, but what if that data is in a table, not a spreadsheet? You COULD type it all up … or you could write a simple data scraper! Relax – if you know a tiny bit about spreadsheets, it’s pretty easy.

Quick Review of Formulas (in Google Drive):

  • Formulas here work just like in Excel
  • Two parts: Formula (=SUM) and Parameters (in the parentheses)
    • Can have one parameter (A1:A20) or more (B1:B10, “Y”)
    • Parameters can be either strings (in quotes) or numbers
    • Example: =SUM(A1:A20) will add up all the values in the range of cells from A1 to A20.
    • Other formulas:
      • =COUNT(A1:A?)
      • =AVERAGE(A1:A?)
      • There are also IF formulas (COUNTIF, SUMIF, AVERAGEIF) that take two parameters: =COUNTIF(A1:A?, >100) counts all cells in a range that have values greater than 100.

Recipe for a Simple Data Scraper (using Google Drive):

  1. Find a website of interest that includes data in a table (Wikipedia has lots)
    1. Anywhere you’d expect a table or list (e.g. Oscar winners, baseball stats, lists of prison)
    2. You can check in source code by searching <table, <ul, or <ol (don’t include the >)
  2. Note the following:
    1. The URL
    2. The index of the table (e.g., “1” for first table on the page, etc.)
  3. In new Google Docs spreadsheet, paste the following 3-parameter formula:
    1. =ImportHTML(url,query,index)
      1. url is the website’s URL [string]
      2. query is the HTML tag you want (e.g., “table” or “list”) [string]
      3. index is the ranking of that query on the page [number]
      4. Oscar winners example: =ImportHTML(“”, “table”, 2)
  1. You can customize it, too:
    1. Delete your formula from A1 and re-paste in B1
    2. Enter the three parameters in A1 (url), A2 (query), and A3 (index)
    3. Paste the formula in B1 and replace parameters with A1, A2, and A3
    4. This allows you to change parameters more easily and visibly
  2. ADVANCED: There’s an =ImportXML formula as well
    1. XML is heavily structured and uses more specific tags, like <book>
    2. Example from, an open gov’t site: =importXML(“;,”councils/council”) – Example drawn from Bradshaw’s book (see below)
  3. Want more? For $15, you can download Paul Bradshaw’s “Scraping for Journalists,” an excellent PDF book (first chapter is free):

Having problems?

  • Don’t forget to start the formula with an = sign
  • Check to see if you included quotes around your URL and query
  • Try a different index

Read & Respond week 8: Group blogs past

October 3, 2016

In preparation for your group blogs (to be announced in Wednesday’s class), you’ll be taking a look into the past. There’s no Briggs chapter for this week; instead, you’ll take a leisurely read through what has come before. Read the following:

1. Morgantown Problems (2013): This is one of the best group blogs produced in this class, and I want everyone to have a look (especially the Panera post and its resulting comment thread).

2. At least ONE of the other previous group blogs (see list):

Move-in Morgantown (2010)

MountainEats (2011)

The Eclectic (2011)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Morgantown (2011)

Graduation Preparation (2012)

A “J” in the Life (2012)

Mountaineers Connect (2012)

#gradschoolproblems (2012)

Morgantown Man Cave (2013)

Meet Me in the Mountain State (2015)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Morgantown (2015)

Wild But Not So Wonderful (2015)

Humans of Morgantown (2016)

Morgantown Matters (2016)

Morgantown Underground (2016)

The New Motown (2016)

Your response will focus on the two blogs (Morgantown Problems and one other) and what they did. What are they about? Is there a clear focus? What are some of their strongest posts? Weakest? (yes, you have to pick one – be constructive) Finally, and most importantly, what would you have done differently, and how does that influence your own group blog plans? Your response is due as a comment to this post by Noon, Thursday, October 6 (note later deadline due to my forgetting to post this on time!).

Group Blog Teams (fall 2016)

October 3, 2016

Here they are, your group blog teams for fall 2016! I went through your existing blogs and the comments you left on last week’s assignment to sort you by complementary interests, styles, and so on. The more detail you provided, the better a fit I was likely to find. Regardless, you’re in this boat together now, so get to know each other!

Group 1

  • Carly
  • Kameron
  • Brittany
  • Sasha

Group 2

  • Carolina
  • Jay
  • Michala
  • Lydia

Group 3

  • Bobby
  • Ryan
  • Jaz
  • Alexa

Group 4

  • Jordan
  • Andrew
  • Clarissa
  • Sarah

In today’s class, you’ll be meeting to work out the initial details of whatever it is you’ll be doing for the final five weeks of the semester. Next Monday, Oct. 10, your group will present its concept to the class along with several specific story pitches. As a group, you will print and submit the following as a (stapled) six-page packet:

  • Page 1: The title of your blog and a detailed description
  • Pages 2-5: One page from each member with ten one-sentence story pitches. These must be complete sentences that underline why we should care and suggest potential sources.
  • Page 6: A tentative posting schedule (Monday-Thursday) for the final five weeks of the semester.

All this material can be changed, but you must have it in hand at the START of Monday’s class (or the group will receive a deduction). NOTE: Don’t create an actual blog on WordPress yet – that comes later.