Locate Chicago 2016

About the project


This Web site documents Medill’s Spring 2008 New Media Publishing Project, undertaken by six graduate journalism students at Northwestern University. For ten weeks, our group explored the intersection of location-based technologies and journalism, to learn what forms locative storytelling might take and the circumstances in which it might be valuable for media organizations.


Locative storytelling is distinguished by its powerful ability to enhance a user’s connection to a given place. Using location-based technologies, such as GPS-enabled devices and interactive maps, locative storytelling provides geographically relevant and/or geographically-triggered content. We’re accustomed to using linear interfaces, such as alphabetized directories and timelines, to organize and access information. But our experiences in the real, physical and non-digitized world are usually not linear. They’re spatial, dynamic and intuitive. Locative technology has the power to capitalize on that instinct.


We created a GPS-triggered story to educate the Chicago community about the potential social, economic and environmental impacts if Chicago wins its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Our story brought people to the physical locations of the planned venues, and spurred them to imagine the rich history of the sites as well as the future plans for them.


We have included a summary of several findings and recommendations below, but you can also download the full report. You can also view or download our multimedia stories.



Key findings and recommendations for journalists, news organizations and media companies


1) Think geographically and geotag content
Geography is a key tool for making content relevant to media users, and is a powerful interface for information search and organization. News organizations should geotag stories to make them easily identifiable by relevant locations. Rather than searching by keyword, people can now browse a digital map for relevant information for a particular location.


2) Mobile technology is ideal for geographically relevant content and should be capitalized on now
Key advantages of mobile devices include portability, location awareness that can be used to customize content and the fact that people nowadays almost always have their portable electronic devices with them. Increasingly, cell phones and other mobile devices will include GPS and other technologies that “know” the user’s location, making it more possible to target content to users based on their location or geographic interests. In addition, the technology already exists for news organizations to use location-based services to provide news to consumers on mobile devices. One example is JotYou, which provides text messages that are only delivered when a recipient enters a previously specified geographic location.


3) Cumbersome content delivery has limited the market for mobile and location-based stories, so this process should be streamlined
The process of getting content into a portable device can be time-consuming and often requires multiple steps. The news media should capitalize on new technologies to streamline content delivery and thereby increase the number of users. Improvements in wireless, cellular and GPS technologies will allow for on-demand, wireless content delivery.


4) Young adults are avid users of mobile technology, so they should be targeted as an audience for locative storytelling
Mobile technology’s value to young adults will only increase as social networks go mobile. Also, mobile social networking sites that are driven by location, such as Brightkite and Loopt, have immersed young adults into the rapidly expanding world of location-based services, so they may be the most receptive group to location-based storytelling at this point. Young adults also tend to be more tech savvy, early adopters and less likely to worry about privacy issues and location tracking because they have grown up in a world with Facebook and other applications that make people’s private lives very public.


5) Newsrooms have resources that could already be used for locative storytelling and should be maximized
Mobile journalists are proliferating in newsrooms. They should be utilized for locative content because they are already outfitted with the necessary technology, tools and hyper-local mindset that meshes well with locative storytelling. They can easily re-purpose audio, video and images from other kinds of stories.


6) Audio has been under-appreciated, but should be embraced
Now that portable devices are becoming more popular for consuming content, people need to overcome the notion that audio is only for radio. Audio is powerful, immersive and often useful because people tend to use portable devices while multitasking.


News organizations should begin to explore locative storytelling through audio tours. Not only are audio tours less costly to produce, but the audience is more likely to already have the mp3 players or even desktop computers needed to hear the stories. Start with audio tours and then eventually work up to location-triggered stories such as Mediascapes.


7) The success of locative stories depends upon their treatment and they should be handled differently, depending on the type of news
Locative stories are more likely to catch on if they’re organic experiences that fit the flow of people’s daily lives, rather than forcing them into a location and an experience.


Breaking news alerts trigged by a user’s current location could be really valuable. For example, users could be alerted of a big demonstration taking place up ahead and decide whether to avoid it or to attend.


Breaking news is different from in-depth features and should be treated as such. It is ideal to know breaking news as it happens, so news organizations should capitalize on wireless alerts. In contrast, GPS-driven storytelling should be on-demand. Users may not have the time or patience for these types of stories on a daily basis, but this option should be readily available.


8) Readers may be suffering from “Google Maps fatigue,” so the media should explore new or better ways of organizing information
Newspapers widely use interactive online maps now, leading to what we call “Google Maps fatigue.” More information is being attached to geographic coordinates and readers may be turned off by the basic look of Google Maps, which are ubiquitous and can look cluttered with too much information.


9) Location-based advertising is the “holy grail” of mobile marketing and should be explored
Many advertisers want to explore mobile marketing, especially location-based advertisements, but there have been some roadblocks, including privacy concerns and the requirement that users opt-in or have GPS-enabled phones. Despite its allure, news organizations should avoid ads embedded within locative stories, which would not only be intrusive, but also heavily blur the line between editorial and advertising content.


10) Younger audiences want to be more deeply involved in creating and sharing content, so the media should encourage user feedback and community involvement
We live in an era of user-generated content and participation. Young adults, in particular, are used to sites that allow comments, rating or reviews, and sharing. News organizations should also allow feedback. They should also follow the lead of community storytelling initiatives, such as The Organic City, based in Oakland, Calif., by engaging community members in story development and promotion.


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