behind the news

Embeddable Sandy content

Google and WNYC created free, shareable media
November 1, 2012

One of the most useful bits of embeddable content being passed around in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is this Transit Tracker, created by WNYC, that shows which New York City trains and buses are running and when to expect the next updates. WNYC provides the html code behind the content to make the tracker embeddable on other sites. That code often contains the creator’s logo, which raises the profile of the brand.

The tracker is one of several bits of embeddable content developed by the station—during the storm, it also provided maps of the evacuation zone, a storm surge map, and a Sandy Tracker that turned up later on the Guardian bearing the WNYC logo.

Of course, several newsrooms created interactive maps (good work here from The New York Times on power outages, for example), but not all of them made those maps embeddable. Susan McGregor, who was the senior programmer on the news graphics team at the Wall Street Journal Online until she joined Columbia University’s Tow Center for digital journalism in 2011, told CJR that newsrooms must balance the benefits of the brand exposure they get from making their work embeddable, against the cost of hosting the content on their servers. (Disclosure: McGregor taught me at the J-school.)

“In this case, WNYC gets server traffic, but not site visits,” McGregor said. “The fear is that you don’t get the extra pageviews, while still bearing the costs. However, now you have awareness of WNYC in a community, like the Guardian community, who might not otherwise have heard about it.” McGregor said some sites may choose not to make their content embeddable because they either don’t need the exposure, or they don’t want bits of their content taken out of context.

On Twitter, WNYC’s Data News editor John Keefe credited the station’s strong data team for creating the content:

He later told CJR: “WNYC tries to make all of its news maps and charts embeddable in the public interest. Sometimes that’s not possible, due to our rights to the underlying data. But most of the time it is.”

As we covered yesterday,, the nonprofit arm of the Internet giant, also has some great embeddable content on the storm, including a crisis map of the east coast and another of New York. Google plotted the New York City version using information from NYC Open Data on evacuation shelters, weather information and live webcams.

Hazel Sheffield is a journalist and filmmaker based in London. She is a former CJR fellow and business editor of the Independent.