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Excerpts taken from Business Geographics

Digital Maps Aid News presentation

Any television broadcaster will tell you that information equals ratings. In today's market, however, possessing information is only half the battle. How well you present it, and with what level of panache, can mean the difference between securing a loyal viewership and striking out in the ratings game.

With the onset of the Information Age and such graphically rich alternatives as the World Wide Web, presentation and style are at least as important, if not more so, than the information itself. Networks and local stations aren't competing just for viewer interest in the news, but for sustaining viewer interest through stylish, informationally rich graphics. Information is now a commodity, a product to be attractively repackaged in a way that's compelling, educational and aesthetically pleasing. Anything less and one's competitor is a remote-control click away.

Maps Weather the Storm

Changing weather patterns, especially storms and extreme conditions, make regular weather reports an important staple in any news programming. Despite the adage that "the weatherman is never right," viewers nonetheless rely on broadcasters for daily forecasts, and weather broadcasters and meteorologists rely heavily on maps to deliver reports.

Presenting the weather, by its very nature, is map intensive. Stations need to provide a broad context upon which to display weather patterns and conditions. Live feeds are useful for showing remote, isolated situations, such as the effect of a hail storm in a local neighborhood, but viewers need to know what's happening, or going to happen, over a general area of interest. Maps provide the basis for such context and, especially for local stations where the impact of dangerous and/or unpredictable weather is felt, they are essential.

"Weather's a big deal up here [in Seattle]," says Chipman. "Not so much because of the dangers of weather, like tornadoes, but we'll get some pretty heavy windstorms coming through. It's a very interesting region to try and nail down the weather, so there's a lot of interest in the weather and what's going on with that."

For quality maps, stations like King 5 have turned to Digital Wisdom's Mountain High Maps to enhance weather coverage. Offered in a gray-scale base, the two CD-ROM collection of digital relief images provides a complete world coverage of about 74 maps, including optional ocean floor relief and land relief layers. The maps allow broadcasters like Chipman to move beyond flat, skeletal map bases, which had to be embellished, to preformatted, topographic maps that require minimal time and manipulation.

"I've recently redone all of our weather maps with Mountain High Maps," continues Chipman. "We had to match the wire frames from our Weather Systems Inc. (WSI) system. By taking high-resolution images that Digital Wisdom has, I was able to rotate, position and reduce down to match the wire frames that I got from the WSI because that's all based on a map for plotting where the temperatures and such goes. And so, starting with a good high-resolution file, I didn't lose alot of quality as I manipulated it."

Cable channels such as The Weather Channel, which depends on weather maps for the bulk of its programming, also have turned to Digital Wisdom for help. "We've needed something like Mountain High Maps for a long time," says Stark. "Most of our product is on maps." The Weather Channel uses Mountain High Maps as an adjunct to satellite imagery and meteorologist maps for special daily stories and reporting, as well as documentaries. The Weather Channel's staff uses and reuses maps they've already generated by turning layers on and off and quickly laying in new graphics and icons.

"Once somebody's created a base map, it gets used over and over again because we have a really good storage system," explains Stark. "It just keeps saving us time because we don't have to [create it]."

The ability to access accurate topography and help provide weather forecasting and services to more than 200 television stations around the world attracted Accu-Weather Inc., State College, PA., to Mountain High Maps. The Accu-Weather service generates more than 25,000 graphics a day, according to Joel Myers, Accu-Weather founder and president, including satellite images, Doppler radar images, weather maps and temperature band maps.

"Most times the client would like to see topography within their area," says Jay Mathieu, Accu-Weather manager of television graphics development. "Before I got Mountain High Maps, it took about six hours to create a map with topography on it, and it was six tedious hours of close, detailed work. Now a map can be created for anywhere in the world in less than an hour and a half."

The Future

Maps will remain an important component of news reporting. Both graphically and informationally, broadcasters will continue to rely on maps to maintain a competitive edge. Digital maps are helping to facilitate this need. Their fundamental strength remains the increased speed and accuracy-broadcasting necessities-they provide stations.

© Copyright Business Geographics / GIS World, Fort Collins CO

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