Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 20, 2012, 1:53 p.m.
propublica-stateface-font

Typographic capitals: ProPublica shares a tool for easy state maps

The typeface-as-atlas webfont is the latest open-source release from the nonprofit news outlet, which has been building out key parts of the journalist-coder’s toolkit.

I’m pretty sure there isn’t a category for Best Use of Webfont Formats, so ProPublica will probably have to remain happy with the two Pulitzer Prizes it’s already won. But a tiny little project out of the nonprofit news giant is worth an attaboy.

ProPublica just released StateFace, a webfont that, in place of standard letters, contains maps of the 50 states. (Plus the District of Columbia. Sorry, Guam.) Dingbat fonts are nothing new, and Unicode has helped bring font-characters-as-tiny-graphics closer to the mainstream.

But StateFace is purpose-driven, marrying typographic technology with editorial needs. ProPublica’s using it as an easy way to get state maps onto its Super PAC tracking page. You embed the font files as you would any other webfont, with a simple CSS call from your server.

Here’s the Gulf Coast, for instance. (Warning: This won’t look right in an RSS feed or some other non-web environment, I’d wager.)

qRYBJI

On the back end, those states are really just the random-looking string “qRYBJI”; R equals Louisiana, J equals Georgia, and so on. You can select them with your mouse and copy them into a text file if you want.

And the glyphs are detailed enough that they can be scaled up quite large. Here’s Louisiana at 300-point, and just for fun, crawfish red:

R

(We Louisianans wish our southeastern coastline was still that lush and full, but that’s another story.)

The vagaries of web typography also mean you can do things like italicize a state — imagine a strong breeze was coming in from north Texas:

R

ProPublica’s Scott Klein is proud of the little details:

From what I can tell from the github repo, Jeff Larson and Klein were the main drivers behind the project. (An exercise left to the reader: Be the first person to make a complete map of the United States using this webfont and CSS absolute positioning.)

Now, I imagine that “making fonts with tiny maps in them” probably didn’t rank high on the Sandlers’ wish list when they gave the initial gift to fund ProPublica. But nonetheless, once the developers went through the trouble of solving their own problem, they took the extra step of releasing their work for others to use.

It remains one of my favorite things about ProPublica that it is so committed to sharing both its work and the tools it builds to create that work. Read its Nerd Blog and you’ll find tools like Simple Tiles (a map imaging tool), a small stepper graphic library, TimelineSetter (for, duh, timelines), a guide for scraping data from the web, a tool for connection graphics, and more.

Those are all valuable additions to the journalist-coder toolkit. So even though I don’t imagine I’ll ever have a use for an inline map of New Mexico, I raise a toast to the open-source sensibilities of ProPublica’s nerds.

POSTED     March 20, 2012, 1:53 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?
What Scribd’s growing pains mean for the future of digital content subscription models
It turns out that ebook subscription models don’t work very well when people read too much. So what happens next?
How research (and PowerPoints) became the backbone of National Journal’s membership program
“We no longer look at National Journal simply as a news source, but as a collection of resources, as well as a collection of experts we can turn to on occasion.”
What to read next
2843
tweets
A blow for mobile advertising: The next version of Safari will let users block ads on iPhones and iPads
Think making money on mobile advertising is hard now? Think how much more difficult it will be with a significant share of your audience is blocking all your ads — all with a simple download from the App Store.
1763For news organizations, this was the most important set of Apple announcements in years
A new Flipboard-clone with massive potential reach, R.I.P. Newsstand, and news stories embedded deeper inside iOS — it was a big day for news on iPhones and iPads.
762Newsonomics: 10 numbers that define the news business today
From video to social, from mobile to paywalls — these data points help define where we are in the “future of news” today, like it or not.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Los Angeles Times
California Watch
Chicago News Cooperative
Financial Times
Backfence
Twitter
Demand Media
Talking Points Memo
The Sunlight Foundation
Wikipedia
Next Door Media
Bureau of Investigative Journalism