Megan Taylor

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

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UWIRE 100

Today UWIRE released their list of the top 100 student journalists in the country.

Mindy McAdams nominated me for the award and thanks to her and others’ recommendations, I got it!

It’s weird to be recognized in this fashion. I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly spectacular. Just what I thought would be good.

So forget all that thank you crap. Congrats to the other 99 winners, especially Greg Linch, Jenna Marina and Nick Zaccardi.

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Berlin – Bike tour and the last carnival on earth

At 11am yesterday, 14 Americans clambered onto 14 cruisers and set off through the city. Our American guide Marielle was funny and friendly, and took us to some cool, off the beaten path spots.

Key sightings:

  • Commie architecture
  • a segment of the Berlin wall known as the East Side Gallery (the longest section left standing at about 1 kilometer)
  • the Soviet War Memorial
  • a watchtower in a park that used to be part of the “Deathstrip” or “No Man’s
    Land”
  • the Karl-Marx-Allee
  • lunch at a Turkish hole in the wall
  • a squat called Koepi

After the tour, Professor Freeman told us about a carnival that was taking place in a different neighborhood of the city. There was some discussion within a faction of the group about ditching the carnival and going after hot showers instead. But we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Points for adventurousness began to melt away as we were led through a park whose occupants looked to be selling happiness in powder, pill or plant form.

When we emerged from the trail of drug dealers, there was a clearing of pathetic little rides and bored carnies. And mud. And soon, rain. The most depressing carnival on earth.

We should have left 15 minutes earlier.

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Applied Interactive Newspapers

The online capstone course, Applied Interactive Newspapers, is built to work like an internship.

There are 6 students in the class this semester. Each of us is responsible for pulling in 7 stories each week, from The New York Times or AP wire.

These stories are published on Newszine, the Interactive Media Lab’s news Web site.

Recently, in addition to the 7 stories, we were assigned a multimedia requirement. Each week, 2 Soundslides and 2 videos will be published to the site along with our stories, with labor divided among the staff.

It was my turn to do a video this week. I chose to do a video tutorial for using Soundslides. I wrote out my script and talked to my partner, Matt Gonzalez, about the shots. We set the camera up and also set the editing computer up for screen-casting.

Then I did my thing. I’m not particularly pleased with the outcome. I get massive stage fright as soon as the camera’s watching, even though I’m only on the screen for a few seconds.

But I learned a lot from this. I should have run through my actions a few times before I did it for the camera. It also could have done with a little more editing.

In any case, I’m learning a lot about video and editing, so by the time I graduate I should be pretty good at this.

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Ducks go quack, quack, cows go moo

I don’t remember the rest of the song. But that’s what was playing in my head while I read Steve Klein’s “Revenge of the ‘Web People.'” He’s writing about definitions and how “print people” and “Web people” need to be just “journalists.”

Klein argues against the concept that “Web people” are somehow inferior to “print people.”

Online journalists must have all the skills of print and broadcast journalists, as well as digital production skills. They need a far more diverse skill set than journalists who work in vertical disciplines. They must have horizontal skill sets that they then practice on an online platform.
So, any hint that an online journalist is less capable or less qualified than a print or broadcast journalist is just plain wrong and unfair. It really ruffles my feathers (do ducks have feathers?)!

I recently found out that my position at The Alligator was created after a series of editors tried to do away with the Web site completely (in the early to mid-1990s). It apparently diverted important resources from the “real paper.” Think where we’d be now if they had taken the Web seriously!

Back to my point. One of the things that pisses me off the most about the gulf between print and online is how one-sided it seems to be. I read the paper. In both mediums. I care about the paper. In both mediums. I can write and edit just as well as I can create a Google map, edit audio, or design a Web site. I just happen to work in the online department because of the linear structure of the newsroom.

Don’t pigeonhole me just because I can do some things you don’t understand. I enjoy all of the aspects of being a journalist – from finding and reporting a story to producing a Web package. Let me learn all that I can, I’ll bet you learn a few things too.

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Independent Study: Story Idea

My first assignment for my CAR independent study was to get some data from the Alachua County Health Department.

Professor Armstrong charged me with getting all current salaries, as of Jan. 1, 2008 for nurse practitioners and physician assistants working in the Alachua County Health Department, both full and part time. It took a couple of tries to get someone on the line. Then they asked me to send an e-mail. But in 3 business days, I had the data. Much easier than I thought.

I know all data requests won’t be so easy, but it’s good practice in asking for it. The experience was similar to what I did to get a gas prices map on The Independent Florida Alligator’s Web site: Figure out who has it, find a contact number or e-mail address, and ask.

My next assignment was to decide on a story I wanted to do the data analysis for. I had a lot of trouble with this, because I had to choose something that was timely, accessible, etc.

After going through a bunch of ideas

  • location trends for car accidents in the gainesville area. are holidays/game days a factor?
  • something about uf sustainability. the website was basically a bunch of press releases, but i bet if i went and asked they could dig me up some data.
  • I looked at http://earmarkwatch.org/ and found that all the earmarks for the state of Florida are for defense bills. UF and some other Florida universities were getting some cash too.
  • go back to crime or poverty :( i’m trying to avoid these because they seem too obvious/easy.

I finally hit on something:
Given that Crist just put out the budget for public universities and UF is apparently not getting any help, I think that would be a good direction to take. I can compare funding for public universities in Florida and maybe other states, compare growth in attendance, that sort of thing. Look at how funding for UF has changed now that we have fewer people in legislature and other schools are building strength. (UCF, SFU) Is UF still the “flagship” university? I’ll also be looking at tuition.

So the next step is to figure out how far back to look. I’ll start at 10 years, hit up Lexis and see what I can dig up.

I’m much more confident now that the topic is locked down.

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First week of the last semester

I survived. Again.

As usual, the first week of school was accompanied by lack of sleep and an increase in Mountain Dew purchases.

I find myself in a position to look forward to a time beyond school; I will graduate at the end of this semester. As I said to several people during the week: “I look forward to a time when I’m only doing one job.” Juggling the roles of student and employee, especially with multiple points of employment, is more tiring than spending the same amount of time on one area.

This semester I am taking an independent study on Computer-Assisted Reporting. I blogged about this last week, but to recap briefly: I will be learning how to find, clean and analyze data. At the end of the semester I will produce a data-driven story package.

I’m also taking the online capstone for the journalism program at UF. This class will focus on interaction with a CMS and producing video, as well as an independent project (I am hoping to start working with Django here). And just to get past the part-time student level, I am also taking a professional practice class (a.k.a. how to get a job, negotiate salary, etc.)

While I am continuing as Managing Editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, my title is not the only difference from last semester. (We changed New Media to Online.) Many people this semester are new either to The Alligator or to their positions. Although we got off to a rocky start, I think everyone is becoming acclimated and it can only get better. As for the online staff, two out of the three are back, and a total of nine responded to a call for more staff members. This is the most interest that has been shown in a long time.

I am also continuing to update the Citizen Access Project Web site, as well as preparing a newer incarnation for launch. Over the break I started working at the Admissions office at UF, recoding their Web site.

Just writing about my different responsibilities makes me look forward to May. But I know I’ll enjoy every minute that I’m learning, creating or teaching something.

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SNDBoston: Elections Roundtable

Coverng elections is a serious design challenge: fairness, impartiality, dense content, BORING?! Designers can make the content interesting and visually appealing.

Paul Nelson, The virginia Pilot

– Work with ad vertising to ensure enough space
– Handle news based on value and not on previous coverage
– Get opinions from community (reaction pieces on debates, etc.)
– Create ways to make the good stuff stand out (local connections to issues, adwatch – are candidates telling the truth in ads?)
– At-a-glance info
– Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
– illustrations, graphics, multimedia, embed from YouTube etc.
_ reefers to Web site
_ prepare multiple fronts

Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

– Cartoons for election campaigns: has to fill the same size rectangle 4-5 times a week.

Eilliott Malkin, information architect, New York Times interactive

– 2004 election coverage: infographic reefer, liva data from AP
– 2006 coverage: modular inforgraphics, came up with structure 6 months in advance: results page for each section
– 2007: blog caucus, full column infographics, live data, results by various categories
– 2008: homepage, politics section front, blogs, election guide (evergreen), topic pages via nyt navigation and google searches (SEO), timelines

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Student Sessions: Your Online Publication

Jared Novack and Mike Swartz talking about taking a print publication online.

“How to make an extra $10,000 at your first job and not get laid off 3 years later” is the title of their presentation.

First step is to establish a Web identity. Look at the flags from established, important newspapers and then check out their online representations. Ew. You already have a print identity. Use the same logo, carry your brand over isntead of creating a new one.

WEB DESIGN IS NOT PRINT DESIGN ON A COMPUTER. amen.

Remember:
hierarchy content placement
teasers and reefers more important
columns and grids
design fundamentals
ads are content too
scannability (provide a buffet of info..I’m hungry!)

Forget:
large amounts of real-estate
large amounts of copy
overdesigned logos

Design it once: modular design

Online typography: Only a few typefaces to work with. Make the best of it with CSS. Check out A List Apart. Typography is what users interact with most on your Web site.

Three tips:
Play with letter-spacing
Play with line-height (approx 130% of font size)
Use font size for hierarchy

Newspaper Sins:
Flashturbation: Hell to make and update, hell to link. But, Flash can do the work for templated packages.
Blog Jammin’: Why are so many newspaper Web sites inundated with blogs? Rife with: non-information, uninteresting and mundane, not current or neglected, leftover stories. When they are extremely targeted, have organized information and are used as an easy portal to content, they can be good. Good idea: crime blog.
Podcasts: enhance content by providing a primary source, don’t just read the headlines.
Video: YOU ARE NOT TV and that’s a good thing.

Use Google Analytics. Use SEO.

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SNDBoston: my tentative schedule

For my 21st birthday (which was a month and a half ago now) my mother promised to buy me a Blackberry Pearl as soon as I qualified for the T-Mobile discount, which would be sometime in October. Well, October is here. This means, that despite not having a laptop, and my MacBook Pro not being delivered in time, I should be able to blog my way through SNDBoston (Society of News Design conference).

So, this is my tentative plan:

On Thursday, I’ll be attending the Student Sessions, which promise advice but are a little vague on structure and content.

Friday

9:30 am You can judge a book by its cover
Described by USA Today as “the closest thing to a rock star in graphic design today,” Chip Kidd revolutionized book design. Kidd shows how to tell and sell stories using conceptual thinking, visual puns, and found images.

11 am Brainstorming workshop: design
Inspiring examples and practical tips for fresh approaches to design. Robert Newman (Fortune, Real Simple, Vibe, Entertainment Weekly) and Kate Elazegui (art director, New York magazine).

And at this point I’m conflicted. At 2pm, there are two fantastic looking sessions:

Roundtable: The elections
Print and online designers, graphics artists, and picture editors discuss fresh ways to cover the upcoming elections. Panel includes Elliott Malkin (nytimes.com), Paul Nelson (Design Director, The Virginian Pilot), and Dan Wasserman, editorial cartoonist for The Boston Globe.

and

It’s the little things
Recent innovations in presenting stock tables, sports agate, and other small information. The panel includes Dennis Brack (The Washington Post) and typographer Matthew Carter.

Input anyone? Onward, then.

3:15 pm Multimedia, the next frontier
The next place for great design and photojournalism is multimedia argues Brian Storm founder of MediaStorm and former head of multimedia for MSNBC.

Oh, poppycock, more conflicts:

Brainstorming workshop: graphics
Inspiring examples and practical tips for fresh approaches to infographics Archie Tse (New York Times) and Javier Zarracina (The Boston Globe).

or

Typography roundtable
A discussion on trends from readability to revivals with typographers Matthew Carter and David Berlow.

And Friday ends with

6 pm ‘Helvetica, The Movie’
It’s the 50th anniversary of the typeface you love—or love to hate. Director Gary Hustwit’s documentary has been drawing rave reviews on the film festival circuit. The Chicago Tribune enthused that the film “sharpens your eye in general and makes connections between form and content, and between art and life.”

Saturday

9:30 am Reinventing The Guardian
Mark Porter, creative director of one the 2005 SND World’s Best-Designed newspapers on reinventing the print and online versions of one of Britain’s leading newspapers.

11 am The future is now
A look at new and emerging technologies from The New York Times R&D team. Interface designer Nick Bilton and futurist-in-residence Michael Rogers demonstrate the handheld Times Reader and discuss interactive newspaper technologies in development.

This conflicting sessions thing is really obnoxious. I need a time machine!

2 pm Reinventing page one
Long the most traditional page of the paper, panelists Jeff Hindenach (San Jose Mercury News), Gayle Grin (National Post, Canada) and Søren Nyeland (SND 2006 World’s Best-Designed Newspaper Politiken, Denmark) show how to build memorable fronts with photography, graphics, teasers and a strong design voice.

or

2pm Storytelling in print and multimedia
Jenn Crandall (washingtonpost.com’s onBeing) project and Kelli Sullivan (Los Angeles Times projects including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Altered Oceans“) show how words and images can be combined to create compelling narratives.

At 3:15 I’ll be having my portfolio reviewed. I’m really nervous about this because this Web site is in dire need of a redesign (which I’m working on) and I can’t really print out a lot of my work.

The (for me) icing on all this newsy cake is a session at 4:45 with Adrian Holovaty.

Making data webby
Adrian Holovaty of washingtonpost.com shares philosophy and strategies for making data browsable online. He’ll touch on several of his past projects, including chicagocrime.org and Faces of the Fallen.

I’m working on a couple of database projects this semester and probably will be working with Django next semester, so I’m looking forward to satisfying my fetish for the geekier side of journalism.

Applied Fact Finding was a great class for me.

In class we reviewed news stories that were seeded or based entirely on analysis of public records. I learned how to find local and state records on all topics: “campaigns and elections, property, business, health care, court procedures, environment, education, online and library research, FOIA requests, computer-assisted reporting, and Excel.” (from her description of the class)

I was amazed and a little perturbed by how many parts of people’s lives are available through public records and how easy they are to find once you know where and how to look. I’m all for open access, but not to my life.

I love nothing more than to think of a question and use the Internet to find an answer. For this class, my questions were more specific, and limited to the life of one person (who despite numerous marriage licenses was extremely boring). And occasionally, we had to use actual books.

I was further intrigued by the possibilities for journalism that can come from analyzing and tracking public records.

But my favorite segment of the class focused on Web search. Of the two choices available for a book review assignment, I read John Battelle’s “The Search”. I now recommend it to my friends along with “Atlas Shrugged” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

This is a class I would take over again if I could. In my mad rush to learn everything, sometimes I’m unable to slow down and pay attention to something that needs and deserves a little patience. Because of this class, there are randomly scattered CAR (Computer Assisted Reporting) -related Web sites among my del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Reader. I only wish there was as much emphasis on CAR in journalism education as there is on multimedia.

Here’s the resource Web site from the class.