FREE ONLINE COURSE:

Intro to Mapping and GIS for Journalists



Instructors: Darla Cameron and Chris Essig

Aug 27-Sept 23, 2018


With support from:





Welcome to the massive open online course (MOOC) “Intro to Mapping and GIS for Journalists” from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin.


Registering in the platform is easy. Please follow these steps:

  • 1. Create an account in the Journalism Courses system. Even if you’ve taken a course with us before, you may need to create a new account. Check to see if your previous username and password work before creating a new account.
  • 2. Wait for a confirmation in your email indicating that your account has been created. If you do not receive this, please check your spam folder.
  • 3. Log into the platform, scroll down until you see the course listings, and click on the “Intro to Mapping and GIS for Journalists” course.
  • 4. A button will appear. Click “Enroll” to enroll yourself in the course. You will be able to access the course from the “My Courses” menu at the top of the page.
  • 5. You will receive an email confirming your enrollment.

Please add the email addresses knightcenter@austin.utexas.edu and filipa.knightcenter@gmail.com to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.

In this course, you will learn the basics of telling stories with geographic data. We’ll share geographic concepts and best practices from a journalist’s perspective, including what types of datasets make good maps. Then, we’ll dive into practical skills — how to use free GIS (Geographic Information System) software to explore, analyze and visualize data. We’ll include links, tips and tricks for taking your geographic data skills to the next level.

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to think critically about when to use geographic data for storytelling and apply your skills to analyze geographic data and make your own maps.

  • Know what makes good geographic data — how to find it, create it and query it.
  • Use QGIS software to explore and analyze geographic data.
  • Visualize and summarize geographic data into maps for publication.

We welcome anyone interested in geography, map making, data visualization and visual storytelling. No geographic background required, but a sense of what makes a good story helps!

This course requires you to have access to an Internet connection and Web browser, as well as QGIS. We will provide instructions and tutorials on how to install QGIS for those who need help doing so.

First of all, note that this is an asynchronous course. That means there are no live events scheduled at specific times. You can log in to the course and complete activities throughout the week at your own pace, at the times and on the days that are most convenient for you.

Despite its asynchronous nature, there are still structures in place for the duration of the course. The material is organized into four weekly modules. Each module will cover a different topic through videos, presentations, readings and discussion forums. There will be a quiz each week to test the knowledge you've gained through the course materials. The weekly quizzes, and weekly participation in the discussion forums, are the basic requirements for earning a certificate of participation at the end of the course.

This course is very flexible, and if you are behind with the materials, you have the entire length of the course to complete them. We do recommend you complete each of the following before the end of each week so you don’t fall behind:

  • Video lectures
  • Readings and handouts/exercises
  • Participation in the discussion forums
  • Quizzes covering concepts from video lectures and/or readings

Introduction Module:

Maps can do more than help us navigate the world — they can help us tell stories. In this course, we’ll talk about how and why to use geographic data to make a map.

You will learn:

  • How to install QGIS, a free, open-source software for exploring geographic data and making maps
  • What we’re covering in the rest of the course — the basics of storytelling with geographic data.

Module 1: When to make a map

This week, we’ll talk about the basic principles of map-making and what kind of data makes a good map. We’ll also start using QGIS to explore geographic data.

This module will cover:

  • When a map can help tell a story, and when it cannot.
  • Cartographic basics — latitude and longitude, projections and scale.
  • The different types of geographic data — vector points, lines and shapes and raster images, and how to open and manipulate spatial data in QGIS.

Module 2: Combining geographic data

This week, we’ll dig into how and why journalists combine geographic datasets with other data to tell really great stories.

This module will cover:

  • When and why to put multiple pieces of data on the same map.
  • How to geocode data and make a dot map.
  • How to join datasets together inside QGIS to make something with a sum greater than its parts.
  • How to edit data in QGIS to make adjustments on the fly.

Module 3: Analyzing geographic data

This week, we will dive deeper into how you can analyze data to make more complex maps. We’ll talk about how to draw story-worthy conclusions from what you find.

This module will cover:

  • How two Washington Post journalists analyzed racial data to create amazingly detailed dot-density segregation maps — and how to use this technique with your own data.
  • Three useful ways to analyze data in QGIS: points in a polygon, dot density and point buffers.

Module 4: Map publication and next steps

This week, we will talk about visualizing data and learn some design principles to keep in mind when publishing maps online or in print. We’ll also discuss how to take your new geographic skills to the next level.

This module will cover:

  • How to avoid accidentally making a population density map.
  • Two methods for simplifying data.
  • How to export a map from QGIS and next steps to get it ready for publication.
  • What digital publication tools journalists and media practitioners use to tell stories with maps on the internet.

Darla Cameron is a senior data visuals developer at the Texas Tribune, a non-profit news organization that covers politics and policy in Texas.

Darla joined the Tribune in April 2018. Previously, she was a graphics editor at The Washington Post, where she told visual stories at the intersection of money and politics. Before that, she was a news artist at the Tampa Bay Times. Darla’s work has been recognized by the Society for News Design, Online News Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Darla was a fellow at the Poynter Institute and has taught mapping and graphics at The University of Missouri, where she studied journalism and geography. She is from western Colorado.





Chris Essig is a data visuals developer at Texas Tribune, where he builds data visualizations and news apps.

Before joining the team in February 2017, Chris spent almost six years in Iowa. Most recently, he was developer at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids for two and a half years. His team was involved in both engineering and newsroom projects. Before then, he was online editor at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, which is where he got his start building graphics in newsrooms.

He was also an adjunct professor at the University of Northern Iowa, teaching a course that covered both multimedia and data journalism. He is originally from Illinois and received a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois in Springfield.

A certificate of completion is available for those who meet all of the course requirements, and pay online an administrative fee of $30 (thirty U.S. dollars), using a credit card. After the course ends, the Knight Center will send a message with an online form you can submit, if you are interested in the certificate. The online form will be available during the last week of the course. After the form closes, the Knight Center team will verify if you fulfilled the course requirements. This process takes at least a week after the form closes. After confirmation of course requirements, the Knight Center will send a message through the course platform with confirmation that you fulfilled the course requirements and you qualify for the certificate. In this message we will also send you instructions for how to make payment.

Those who meet all of the course requirements will be able to download a PDF version of a certificate of completion. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas awards the certificate to attest to students' participation in the online course, and no formal course credit of any kind is associated with it.

If you'd like to receive a certificate of completion for the course, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Complete weekly quizzes with a minimum score of 70% by the weekly deadline.
  • Watch weekly video lectures and review weekly readings.
  • Participate in at least one discussion forum each week by the given deadline.

If all requirements are met, an electronic certificate will be emailed to the student.

Please add the email addresses filipa.knightcenter@gmail.com and knightcenter@austin.utexas.edu to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.





Connect With Us:

Facebook Twitter