Megan Taylor

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


Scaring highschoolers about the future of journalism

On Wednesday evening I spoke to a group of five students who are taking part in the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative.

I’ve mentioned BYJI here before, mostly begging for help with my public speaking anxiety.

To my surprise, the whole thing went pretty well. The kids were Web-savvy enough to have uploaded a few videos to YouTube, and knew of Twitter, though none are using it yet.

I talked about the “newspaper crisis” caused by lack of innovation, an old business model and the problems with advertising and paywalls. (The kids’ immediate reaction to paywalls: “That won’t work.” Out of the mouths…) I went over the basics of online journalism: blogs, social networks, multimedia. I also talked about citizen journalism a little bit, in terms of how everyone can have a voice in their communities, which is a big problem in the Bronx. They really liked the concepts of “Not Just a Number,” which I showed them, along with the Las Vegas Sun Web site.

One student asked me how he could learn to code, and I directed him to the W3Schools site. Another asked about the future of news on e-readers like the Kindle. And of course the final question was “Where are we going?”

Thanks to Mindy McAdams, Craig Lee, and Tracy Boyer for their advice and inspiration. I’ve uploaded a powerpoint presentation to Slideshare which I used as a guide for my presentation, although it was really more a conversation than a speech.


Journalism discussions: Moving right along

Over at Mindy McAdams’ Teaching Online Journalism, a list is being compiled of the most annoying journalism discussions.

So far (from the post on Alexandre Gamela’s series):

1. Is Twitter Journalism?
2. Death of the Blogosphere
3. Citizen Journalism
4. Bloggers vs. Journalists
5. The Death of Newspapers

My additions (in the comments):

6. Paywalls
7. It’s Google’s Fault
8. Linking

Others (in the comments):

7.5. Google should pay restitution for driving traffic to my news site

10. “X is not journalism!” and “Journalism is not Y!”

I think these conversations pop up every few months, though I haven’t kept track of who is having them. Is it the same people over and over? Or, do different people encounter the same questions as the printies move online? Can we build an F.A.Q. for newbies, listing the different points to each argument?

Having the same conversation over and over again does not progress make. We need to move beyond these questions and find new ones.

Some new questions:

How can we support journalism? Do organizations need to turn non-profit? Or get their work funded by the community? What online advertising models are being used and are they effective? How can news organizations collaborate?

Got more discussions you hate? More questions that need answers? Leave them in the comments!


Newspaper curmudgeon talking points

This is amazing. Must memorize. Where did I hide my index cards?

• Comments are worthless vitriol and they degrade the work of journalists.

• Never link to your competitors, you’re just giving them traffic!

• Social media is a fad. Investing in it now will be a waste of time and money when it all goes bottom-up.

• A blog is not a tool for journalism, it is for people in robes writing about their cats.

• Citizen journalists suck. They’re biased! They have opinions and everything. Act like they own politics.


The ultimate guide to newspaper curmudgeon talking points — Eat Sleep Publish.


IRE Conference – Day 2

This morning I met with my IRE mentor, Steve Doig, who is a CAR teacher at the University of Arizona. We talked about some of the work I’d done, people in the industry to learn from, and ways to stay on top of projects at different newspapers.

I love mentorship programs because I get a basically captive audience for my pro-online and data visualization ranting. I guess it’s also a networking shortcut.

I spent a frustrating hour and a half tracking down an internet connection so I could clear out the ::gasp:: 1000+ items that have accumulated in Google Reader after 3 days of neglect.

Then I went to a session called Cutting Edge Digital Journalism from Around the World.

The session was led by Rosental Alves, University of Texas; Sandra Crucianelli, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; and Fernando Rodriguez, Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism.

One of the things that surprised me was the idea that in Central/South America, CAR/investigative reporting/databases are viewed as “as a gringo thing.”

Rodriguez showed off a database he worked on of politicians in Brazil, called “25,000 politicians and their personal assets.” Politicians have to submit a certain amount of information in order to run for office, including a listing of assets. It took 2 years to track down all this information because the records were not organized and were available only in hard format. Eventually, the database could provide a view of who the politicians were.

The database was published online and stories were written for the newspaper (Folha) as well. Readers started to call in and report inconsistencies. Other newspapers started to use the database for their own stories.

Crucianelli presented a way to monitor government documents online in 4 different countries. (El Salvador, Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua) All 4 countries had recently changed their access laws for public information.

She found that Panama had the best online access to government documents. El Salvador had the worst access.

At noon, Matt Waite presented PolitiFact. Sexy, sexy Politifact. He gave a tour of all the features of the site as well as showing us a little of the back-end: the Django admin setup.

I followed Matt and Aron to a session with Knight grant winner David Cohn, talking about Spot.Us.

Spot.Us is supposed to be an answer to the question: How will we fund reporting that keeps communities informed?

The answer is based on the premise of citizen journalism. Writing is not the only means of participation.

On Spot.Us, anyone can create a story idea. Reporters can pitch stories based on contributed ideas to their communities. People in the community commit money for pitches. Then the reporters cover the stories. Some of the money goes to pay editors. The stories can be republished for free or published exclusively if the original donor is refunded.

And that’s it for me today. I’ll be in for some afternoon sessions tomorrow.


More Online Politics: Newspapers and Databases

I’m always on the lookout for different ways to keep track of the political realm. It is an area that is very hard to cover well, concentrating on the issues without getting caught up in the “who has more money.” I believe it is an area that newspaper have so far failed to cover well. So I turn to the Internet.

The Washington Post has a Campaign Tracker, which lists and maps the campaign events of the 2008 presidential candidates. For each candidate, it lists the state and city with the most events, as well as the top state for fund raising. You can see the results by candidate, date and state, and there’s also an RSS feed. This is a nice start, but its focusing on the least important aspects of the campaigns. I’d like to see the issues candidates represent, whether or not they are being consistent, what groups are they getting support from, and links to every article in which they are mentioned.

EDIT: Derek Willis of the Post pointed out that I totally missed the candidate profiles, finance filings, and primary information linked to the Campaign Tracker.

WashingtonWatch reveals the costs behind proposed U.S. federal legislation and regulation. The site also asks for comments, allows responses to a poll and allows Bill summaries to be edited. The cost of a bill is broken down into “cost per family” which makes it easier to digest. Just looking at some of those costs makes me wince.

I may just be getting cool enough for people to send me press releases, cause I got this in my inbox the other day from the Congresspedia Associate Managing Editor:

  • Get an early look at Congresspedia’s new legislative section

  • What’s McConnell Hiding?’ Win $500 for getting Sen. McConnell to answer on the record

  • LOUIS—a new database of documents from the Congressional Record, congressional bills and resolutions, congressional reports, congressional hearings, GAO reports, presidential papers and the Federal Register.

  • federal money & politics search engine launched (so far only California and U.S. Congress)

  • Open House Project delivers recommendations to increase transparency on Capitol Hill

I really like some of these ideas: pinning politicians down, easy search of Congressional documents, following paper trails and shining a light on Capitol Hill are all great things to put out there. And not necessarily things I expect from my newspaper.


Coconut Grove Grapevine


I grew up in Coconut Grove, and my parents still live there. It was a great place to grow up: very little traffic, winding streets, trees and bushes and the best neighbors a kid could ask for.

It wasn’t until recently that I started to pay attention to the adult world in the Grove. While looking for ways to keep up on my ‘hood, I found the Coconut Grove Grapevine.

I don’t have any idea who the blogger is, but I trust the source. Both of my parents are involved in local politics; the facts check out. I’m even pretty sure the blogger is someone they know. Another reassuring point is the amount of community interaction that goes on in the comments. Letters from commissioners and local bigwigs as well as outspoken Grovites have appeared. People I know, know of, or don’t know at all are talking back, adding information and opinion to the mix.

My parents kept me up-to-date on commissioner elections a while ago, but I was only getting their point of view. While the CGG blogger is clearly biased toward the Grove, not all commenters were of the same opinion. I enjoyed getting to see the different sides of issues that affect a place I love, even if I no longer call it home.

This blog is how I found out that my idyllic little oasis is in trouble. Over-development has been a problem everywhere is South Florida, but it never seemed to hit the Grove – until now. I cheered Grove residents on as they campaigned against Home Depot. I kept a close eye and crossed fingers over a project that would allow more condos to be built on the water, obstructing the view and adding unwanted traffic. The Grove lost both wars.

While the Grapevine focuses on politics, I’ve also seen announcements for local festivals and even a “Paris Hilton goes to Jail party.”

For anyone trying to figure out what hyper-local is, this is it. Coconut Grove is a tiny area in big, busy Miami, and is often overlooked by television and print news. This blog doesn’t just keep me in the know, it makes me feel like I’m still a part of the community.


I dig Philly

I finally found a community portal branded to the city rather than a company. DigPhilly looks like a great editorial staff provides a lot of content and news, plus users can import RSS feeds, load photos, videos, multimedia, classifieds, blog posts and calendars. You can even shop from the site.

The design is pretty cool too, with some creative navigation and colors, and I’m definitely diggin’ the skyline. Just tell me where I can get a philly cheesesteak mailed to me, piping hot and oozing Cheese Whiz, and I’m good.


Virginia Tech

I heard that a student at Virginia Tech got some footage on a cell phone. Supposedly the clip is online, but I haven’t been able to find it. Anyone know where?

What I get for sleeping in: the first thing I saw when I got online today was that 22 people had been killed. The last count I saw was 33 dead.

An opportunity for media: PROFILE EVERYONE.

Edit: Aha! I find you! Thanks, Ryan.


Citizen Journalism: Iraq

The New York Times has a great article, Link by Link: Watching the War and Acknowledging the Dead about “ordinary” people who track military casualties in Iraq.

Daniel K. Ropkin
is looking for “looking for the best story, the one that really tells that person’s life, finding a picture,” with a depth that the Military Casualty Information page can’t match.

Michael S. White “allows a visitor to analyze the material in complex and highly specific ways: for instance, how many service members from New York State over 50 have died in hostile actions in Iraq? (One: Sgt. First Class Ramon A. Acevedoaponte, 51, of Watertown, killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in 2005.)”

Tom Willett includes a single news account for each United States service member killed in combat, with room for comments.

Q Madp created his site “two days before the war started, to make sure all these guys are recognized — I don’t want them to be trashed like they were in Vietnam.”

The New York Times also links from this article to their own coverage.

Each of these sites fills a different need; provides a different perspective. Take this to heart: if you’re not providing people with what they want, they’ll make it for themselves. No one has a monopoly on information or publication anymore.


Hyper-local Gainesville

I’d really like to see more from the Gainesville Sun.

As RSS feed of community events.

Hyper-local coverage. The next time I see a homeless person while walking home from school, I’m going to interview him (or her, but they tend to be male, I wonder why that is, someone should do a study or write an article about that) and write an article for the Newsies.

There is so much about Gainesville that I don’t know because I am fully immersed in the college scene.

I live literally one block east of campus. I go to restaurants, stores and events that are within walking distance (1-2 miles). I only know about The Fest (an annual, mostly punk-rock show that turns Downtown Gainesville into a roiling mass of people, mosh pits and noise for three days in November, and yet no one seems to notice) because I hung out with a music journalist.

I want to know about the holes-in-the-walls, the hidden deli, the place with the best burgers, the cheapest food. What bar suits what personality and which serves the cheapest drinks?

I want to know the town characters. I want a Web site where people post about odd things they’ve seen or done in Gville. So far, none of the mainstream sites that supposedly cater to this have caught on here.

I’ve lived here for three years, and I know none of these things.

Have a seat Gainesville, and tell me about yourself.