Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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Yet another YouTube contest

This time, the winner goes to Africa with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof to write and produce video.

To enter*, upload a video response to Nick’s video, cleverly titled “Win a Trip with Nick,” by February 13th.

Check out Nick’s blog post for more information.

*Bummer, you have to be a student.

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Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative

Working on my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve been looking into several Bronx and NYC blogs.

The Bronx News Network recently posted a deadline extension for applications to something called the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative.

Whaaaat?!

The editors and reporters of the Norwood News and the Mount Hope Monitor are running a youth journalism program for Bronx high school students who are sophomores, juniors or seniors. – Bronx News Network

From the Norwood News site:

Students will learn the fundamentals of writing, reporting, and photojournalism through classroom instruction but, more importantly, through hands-on reporting in their own neighborhoods. We will take them on field trips – including the newsroom of a daily newspaper. They will learn about community activism and civic responsibility, how their neighborhoods work (or don’t), who has power, who doesn’t and why.

Best of all, student work will be published in a special youth supplement called Bronx Youth Heard, which will appear in the Norwood News, Mount Hope Monitor, and Highbridge Horizon, another community newspaper the west Bronx, giving Bronx youth a powerful voice in their own communities.

I was looking for ways to get involved in my community – and I may have found one. I’m planning to call the editors on Monday and see if I can be of use to them. Their site doesn’t mention teaching Web skills, so maybe that’s something I can contribute.

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News Web site user interfaces

Patrick Thornton wrote about user interfaces today, and how news Web sites are so loath to move away from an interface that mimicks the print product.

The last time I visited a news Web site, I was an employee of the paper working on code changes. I’m not counting clicking through to articles, but deliberately going to the home page of a site.

So Where Do I Get News?

I get my news from a couple of sources:

  • Google Reader, where I’m subscribed to over 400 blogs and news sites (including a personalized version of Google News), in addition to recieving shared content from all my friends
  • Twitter, where I follow over 400 users, mostly journalists
  • The AP Mobile News application on my phone. Great for the long commute to work.

Why Don’t I Go To News Sites?

Because they don’t give me what I want. Because I prefer serendipity.

I’m interested in a lot of things and a lot of places and a lot of people. There isn’t one place where I can get all the information I want. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to spend all day bouncing from site to site, hoping someone wrote or produced something I care about.

The other reason is this: A lot of people complain about the Internet being an echo chamber. To some degree, this sucks. I have to scroll through a bunch of work that is the same concept iterated over and over.

But, since I don’t visit news sites, I also don’t see the hierarchy that editors and readers have placed on certain stories. The echo chamber mitigates this problem for me, because I can gurantee that if something is important (or even important only to a certain group of people…people I chose to follow because I care about what’s important to them…) I’ll see it at least 5 times in Google Reader and another 20 on Twitter.

Is a different UI (user interface) really going to change my behavior? I’ll still have to visit multiple sites. The river of news (a la Facebook or Twitter) can get really annoying when I’m looking for something specific. For me, that only works seredipitously. And those cool mapping UI are just cluttery and hard to focus on. To be honest, if I’m looking for articles on a specific topic, I’ll just do a Google search.

Thornton is right, though: news Web sites need to stop emulating print. But they need to do it in a way that actually helps the users. We’ve learned certain behaviors when looking for content online. There are rules that we expect Web sites to follow, and when those are bent too much, we get frustrated. Not good for news sites.

So the question is, without breaking basic UI rules or being gimmicky, how should news sites be designed differently?

Edit: Check out the comments for a discussion between Aron Pilhofer and myself about user interface vs. user interaction.

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NOT Another Resolution: Learn Design

I deliberately left something out of my resolutions post last week.

I left out my recent efforts to defeat my greatest weakness: Design.

Forget about when I started building Web sites (age 11), my relationship with design didn’t start until I got into online journalism.

And I learned that I couldn’t design my way out of a keg. ::shudder::

For a while I thought I could get away without being able to design visual elements. I could shoot photos and video, I could program in Flash and code a site from a .pdf. After all, there’s a reason for having designers, right?

I was wrong. I learned that sometimes, there just isn’t enough designer to go around, and you have to be able to make your own decisions. Things move faster and more smoothly if I don’t have to go ask the designer about an element.

Also, there are design elements to everything else I do online, from customizing a Twitter page to visualizing data. I was going to have to learn.

But how do you learn design?

I didn’t take a class, or sign up for a workshop. I just started reading design blogs. Following designers on Twitter. Paying attention to what I liked about certain Web sites and what made them ugly.

And I’ve made progress. I’m not good at details, but I can spec an overall design that doesn’t make people wish for blindness. I’d say I’ve reached paper bag status (as in can design my way out of), but anything more is beyond me.

I want to get better, because I hate not being able to do things. And because Web deisgn is important. I know I’ll never be a designer, but it would be nice to have a touch of the craft.

So if you’ve got resources, blogs, Web sites, or people that I should be paying attention to, please let me know in the comments.

Edit: I decided to add in a list of what I’m reading.

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Mobile News: Problems, Examples, & Real World Use

(Note: I wrote this a few months ago and forgot about it. I found it while cleaning off my hard drive today. Oops!)

I got a Blackberry Pearl about a year ago, and while I have access to Google Reader and Twitter, (my main sources of news) I just haven’t gotten out of the habit of reading off the larger screen of my laptop.

Many media outlets are pursuing the possibilities of mobile news, having learned from their mistake with the Internet. As mobile phones get more advanced and more people use them, there is an opportunity to capture an audience.

Problems

One issue to address when setting out to get news on mobile phones is the variation in technologies used by different phones. Many phones can play video or view websites. All phones can receive text messages, but that can be costly to the user.

Viewing websites on a non-iPhone is a ghastly business. Tiny screens, poor rendering of CSS, graphic-heavy or Flash-based websites, they all make information harder to get at. One solution here is to create a mobile stylesheet that the phone browser will detect.

Another problem is content. Just as people don’t read off a computer screen the way they read a print product, no one wants to read a lengthy feature article on a 2-inch screen.

What kind of content might one want to see on a phone?

Weather and traffic alerts, events, and big, huge, breaking news. Seriously, the feature article can wait till I get home. But if a criminal is running around my neighborhood with a gun, I’d like to know, ASAP.

What about multimedia? I don’t see myself using my phone to go through a complex multimedia package. A video or slideshow, maybe, if I’m really interested. But phones are about “right now” communication. That should be reflected in how news companies approach them.

It may be that the only real solution for phones is better phone software. It doesn’t have to be iPhone quality, but the ability to add “news” to your basic menu would change everything. You could do any kind of feed you want then, while not having to go three steps in just to open a browser.

Examples

The Associated Press launched the Mobile News Network. The view on a phone is pretty nice, with a top news home screen, categorized story feeds (you can pick the general topics, and a “saved” category for custom searches). You can set preferences for location and the types of news you want to see. They also do video pretty well, providing various formats. They have applications for Blackberry/iPhone/iPod Touch users.

CNN’s mobile offerings include a Java application, SMS alerts, live TV (for certain providers), and downloadable videos.


The BBC actually explains
how they set up several different versions of their mobile site and let your browser choose the best one.

The New York Times offers a mobile site where you can read the NYT blogs, see most e-mailed articles, get alerts for topics or keywords, and browse real estate listings, stocks and weather forecasts. You can also choose to have news sent to your phone via text message. Customers of certain providers can also get access to crossword puzzles.

Fox News provides live video, streaming video clips, the requisite mobile site, and text alerts. Something a little different: they also offer an audio version of FNC, for a monthly fee.

Real World Use

The people most likely to have a compulsion to check the news every few hours, no matter where they are, are journalists. So I rounded up a few and asked about their mobile news habits.

Greg Linch sent me an e-mail after I asked for responses on Twitter.

I check Gmail on my smart phone (an AT&T Tilt), where I might have a New York Times, Washington Post or Miami Herald breaking news e-mail. After checking Gmail, I look at Twitter for other news and any interesting conversations. I also get Miami Herald breaking news text alerts, which include big national and local news.

If I’m away from the computer for an extended period of time — or if I’m bored somewhere — I’ll check Google Reader on my phone. If I just want a quick peek at the latest headlines, I’ll go to the mobile version of a site such as CNN, NYT or the Herald.

Kyle Mitchell is a music writer. He carries an iPod Touch. In an IM conversation, Kyle told me about his news habits.

NYT is one that keeps going down all the time. AP Mobile News is absolutely fantastic: runs fast as hell and top news never contains any bullshit like celebrity news. I check that a few times a day. Google News has a similar setup, but it’s much more clunky.

Brett Roegiers associate producer at CNN.com said

On my phone, I consume the news via Google Reader and Twitter.

Brett volunteered some advice to media outlets:

I’ll tell you what news organizations should pay attention to: location-based web apps. I click ‘restaurants’ or ‘bars’ and it shows me what’s in my area without me having to input where I am. I guess I’d say try to take advantage of the platform in some way and not just show the latest headlines.


Lyndsey Lewis
has an older Nokia, but checks the news on her iPod Touch.

I don’t use my phone, because I have a shitty Nokia phone and it’s hard to read stuff on it. But, I also own an iPod Touch, which I bring with me everywhere and use for news. I have the New York Times app on it and use that almost every day.

So what applications are you using to get the news on your phone? What do you think media outlets should be doing to get people’s attention? What can manufacturers do to make phones easier to use in this context?

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Big Pictures Help Tell Big Stories

My second article for MediaShift’s Innovation Spotlight series is about Alan Taylor’s The Big Picture blog at Boston.com:
Big Pictures Help Tell Big Stories at Boston.com.

Newspapers and other media outlets use wire photos to add art to text stories. But have you noticed how small these photos usually are? Even online, where the spatial limitations of a print product don’t apply, old media outlets persist in shrinking pictures.

As newspapers struggle to figure out how to tell their stories online, many make the mistake of transfering print rules to the web. This results in the small photos and low-quality videos that frustrate so many users.

The Big Picture has created a way to display powerful images in a user-friendly manner.


The MediaShift Innovation Spotlight will run every other week. Please let me know of any innovative projects you are working on or have seen lately. It doesn’t have to be from a major newspaper; it just has to be an innovative blend of journalism and technology. Please e-mail me at mtaylor[at]megantaylor[dot]org to submit a Spotlight recommendation.

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Washington Post: TimeSpace

Awhile ago I realized that somehow I ended up on the Washington Post’s press release e-mail list. I’m not complaining, it’s a good way for me to find out about what they’re doing.

Today, the World section launched an app has has been around for a bit (I think they had a elections version) in beta. It’s called TimeSpace: World.

It’s pretty freakin’ cool, although sadly loading page page also loads a ginormous ad above the application. This is not quite what people mean when they talk about making web apps pay.

From the e-mail I got:

Using innovative technology, TimeSpace: World compiles all world news content from The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com, PostGlobal, Foreign Policy magazine, and partner sites including The Associated Press and Reuters onto one, customizable map.

Here’s how it works: coverage is collected into clusters around hot-spots on an interactive map. By clicking a cluster, users can view articles, blog posts, photos, videos, and even reporter twitter feeds (without leaving the page). A timeline below the map illustrates peaks in coverage and allows users to customize news searches to a specific day or hour.

They also made a widget for the app, and individual items have unique URLs for easy sharing. The content includes articles, blogs, photos and video.

I really like the idea, though unless you’re looking for something specific, it can get overwhelming to look at. The map is designed really well, with a neat sliding timeline function that also shows how much content there is for a specific time. Looks like there are some tracking possibilities here.

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Blog Guidelines

Since I’ve decided to shed the SOJO identity, I decided to write the post I should have written 2+ years ago when I started blogging.

Editorial Guidelines

This is my blog, so I’ll write about whatever I want. Most times, that will mean something of interest in the realms of journalism, the media, or the Internet. But I reserve the right to deviate from those topics at will. Alternate topics could include my cats, life in New York City and movies/music my roommate exposes me to.

I will, however, promise to discuss all these topics in a reasonably intelligent manner.

I will not post negatively about any of my employers. I will not post content that has been declared “confidential” by any of my employers. I might remove content that my employers ask me to take down, on a case by case basis.

My views as written here do not reflect those of my employers. On the other hand, they are free to agree with me.

Commenting Policy

I’m a big fan of open commenting. But no spam filter is perfect, so I’ll remove any comment that I perceive as spam.

I’d prefer you not attack any of my employers in the comments, though you may feel free to ridicule me to your heart’s content. I’m a tough broad.

If you commented with something interesting or useful, I’ll probably respond. If I don’t, either your comment was silly or I just didn’t have anything to say. Take it as you will.

My personal contact information is plastered all over this site, so please feel free to e-mail me with anything you don’t think is appropriate for comments, including job offers.

Social Media

I use the handle “selfmadepsyche” across most of the social media sites I frequent. (Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Flickr…)

My comments on some of these sites will usually be less formal than on my blog. Feel free to contact me on any of these sites.

Conclusion

Mix two parts “my blog is having an identity crisis” to one part mild distaste for rules and you get an approximation of why this was written with so much snark. Add a dash of salt, and take it with the good humor with which it was meant.

I love this space, and I’m still trying to figure out how it should change as I go through changes in my own life. I want to share the things I experience and learn with people who are interested in similar topics. I want to grow as a writer, as a journalist and as a person. I’m hoping you’ll all help me with that.

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PBS MediaShift Spotlight series

MediaShift Spotlight Innovation illustration by Omar Lee for MediaShift.A few weeks ago, MediaShift‘s Mark Glaser approached me (via e-mail) about doing a series for MediaShift on innovation in journalism.

I instantly replied with a list of possible projects to highlight. I’m really excited to be working on this.

After two weeks of interviews and back-and-forthing, my first post went live yesterday: Neighborhood Watch Puts Florida Home Sales on the Map.

I talked to the creator of Neighborhood Watch, Matt Waite, about how the project was conceived and built, and what the response has been like. Although we had some technical difficulties on Skype, I was able to get some audio and also did a screencast for the site.

I’ll be spotlighting a different project every two weeks. It doesn’t have to be from a mainstream media outlet, just a unique mashup of technology and journalism. (Please, if you know of or are working on something new and different, let me know in the comments or e-mail me at mtaylor(at)megantaylor(dot)org.

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SOJO is dead, Megan’s blog lives on

I’ve decided to retire SOJO: Student of Online Journalism as the title of my blog.

Although I am always learning, and in some respect will always remain a “Student of Online Journalism,” my posts have been veering farther and father from that topic.

I will continue to write about “the Web, the media and journalism,” and my own experiences in these areas. I’ll probably write about some other random stuff too.

But I’ve graduated from school, and as harsh as the real world is in comparison, that’s where I live now. So, good-bye SOJO. But I’m going to keep writing.