Megan Taylor

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

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Rebooting Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists

tntjThis month, TNTJ (a blog ring for young journalists around the world who debate a topic each month) is asking for help. Over the last few months, postings have dwindled, and it’s time to get people motivated again.

The problems that TNTJ faces are not unique. It is the problem we face every time we try to create a community. Look at all the Ning communities that have been created for journalists. How many are still active?

Last month’s topic was “Have you fallen out of love with blogging?” There were a couple of responses, most of which seemed to say “We like blogging, but Twitter is faster and easier.”

I totally sympathize, as my own blog has been neglected. But I don’t agree. Blogging is for long-form discussion, rather than the short bursts of lazy links we all get on Twitter. (Mind you, I’m not hating on Twitter, but it is hard to get ideas into 140 characters.)

Other topics have been:

  • What advice would you give to a student or recent graduate who has a summer/job internship?
  • Tips, knowledge and experience are essential — but how do you get them? Where do you look?
  • What are your summer (internship) plans? And, if you’re graduating, what are your job prospects?
  • What traditional skills are we ignoring, or letting slip? What’s the downside of new media?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 5 or 6 responses to a TNTJ question in a given month. Unfortunate, because I would love to get to know the other participants and hear what they are working on, learning and thinking. I haven’t responded every month myself, either because the topic was narrowed to students or I didn’t want to be repeating the same obvious answers.

I think that the topics have been lukewarm and mostly aimed at students. I don’t know how many students make up the TNTJ circle, but those narrow topics make it hard for graduates and out-of-work journalists like myself to contribute. Some of the topics have also been so narrow that the responses are kind of obvious and predictable.

TNTJ is also considering adding a podcast to the mix. Again, the success of this endeavor will rely entirely on the community. Will enough people be able to contribute? Will people have different opinions that will make these discussions interesting?

If the topic were interesting, I would listen. I would definitely participate in any discussion I thought I could contribute to.

What else can TNTJ do to stimulate discussion?

I think one of the major problems is the lack of mission. What is TNTJ trying to accomplish? Just gathering young journalists together isn’t enough of a mission statement. We need something to work toward.

What are we, as young journalists, trying to accomplish?

I believe that like most journalists at this time, (indeed, most people) we are trying to make places for ourselves in a changing world, while exerting what effort and influence we have to make that world better.

There are two major parts to this: seeing where we are, and seeing where we will go. That is what we should be discussing every month.

Some ideas for future topics:

* What new projects and experiments are you watching or working on?
* What technologies are emerging and how will they affect journalism?
* What are you learning?
* What are the elements of journalism that we should expand upon in order to do our jobs better?
* What business models might support journalism in the future?

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New York should copy DataSF.org

New York City is in the process of opening a whole lot of data to developers as part of the BigApps competition.

Contestants will be asked to develop functional digital applications that will facilitate the dissemination of and greater access to publicly available City data. NYCEDC will manage the competition (including logistics and promotion) and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) will coordinate the formatting and release of selected City data to the public. The BigApps Competition will help to make City government more transparent, accessible and accountable and stimulate innovation in information technology that could lead to new businesses and job creation.

In order to do this, developers have to send in a request for data

These descriptions should provide as much detail as possible about the type and level of data desired. In addition, respondents are requested to describe how they envision the data being used in software applications that provide a useful service to City residents, visitors and government.

The Open Government NYC Meetup group is running BigAppsDevCamp, a workshop to help developers navigate the system of requests and proposals required by the city. They are also collecting project ideas.

Today, I saw an example of where New York should be heading. Infosthetics pointed out San Fransisco’s open data initiatives, including DataSF and San Francisco CrimeSpotting.

datasf

DataSF is an online repository of datasets available from the City & County of San Francisco. Similar to the goals of the data.gov and USASpending.gov initiatives, DataSF aims to improve access to data, help the community create innovative apps, understand what datasets the public likes to see, and receive feedback on the quality of the data. Included data ranges from all the trees located in the San Francisco streets (planting date, species, and location) to all its building permits or complaints.

In my opinion, that’s how New York should be running this competition. Don’t make developers try to guess how detailed your data is, or what you are collecting. I’m hoping there is an enterprising developer out there is who requesting ALL NYC data and will then make it all available to the public.

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Community Tool, Teaching Tool

Globalstudentjournalists Anna Rodrigues, a journalism professor at Durham College in Oshawa, Canada, has spent the last year developing a project that will at once serve as a global community for journalism students and as a teaching tool in her classroom.

Global Student Journalists is a social media network where student journalists from around the world can connect. The network allows students from any journalism program in the world to become a member and upload their work – video, audio, images etc – to the site for other students to look at and give feedback.

This site will also be used in my classroom as a teaching tool in online community management. I had been struggling with a way to teach students how to manage comments and members in a newsroom context so this became a way to do that.

If you’re not registered, there isn’t much to see. Rodrigues says the site was built to provide students with a private community. Once logged in, students can show their work and comment on other work that has been posted. Comments and membership will be moderated by Roderigues’ students, in an effort to teach them about online community management.

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Small community newspapers and the future of journalism

bronx-news-network-1

I live in the West Bronx area of New York City. The neighborhoods in this area are diverse, the history is complicated, and the stigma of the Bronx is strong.

There is no metro paper that covers these neighborhoods. The New York Times, Daily News, New York Post and Gothamist occasionally cover political and crime issues in the area, but no major paper is giving this group of communities a voice.

Instead, residents are given a voice in the small local papers that are part of the Bronx News Network. Rather than focusing on breaking news items and fighting over scoops, these papers work together. The Bronx News Network is a nonprofit organization founded by Mosholu Preservation Corporation and the Norwood News.

The Bronx News Network includes the Tremont Tribune, the Norwood News (for which I freelance), the Mott Haven Herald, the Mount Hope Monitor, the Hunts Point Express and the Highbridge Horizon.

None of these papers are dailies. They publish anywhere from every two weeks to once a month. But they still provide an important source of news and opinion to an under-served community. They have unimpressive websites and tiny offices. And they are surviving in a time when the news industry is in trouble. They will continue to survive, and not just because they are the only ones providing this service to this area.

Small community newspapers will be able to provide targeted advertising, the bane of the major metro.

They can react quickly to the changes in technology and society.

They live in the areas they write about.

I don’t want to say that tiny papers are the future of journalism, because the future for journalism will not be any one thing. The future will depend on each community, and how the community interacts with the producers of journalism.

I am saying that this model seems to be working really well for this particular community. And it’s important to look at what is working where, and see what can be applied in other areas.

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The Government, the Internet and Data

datagovThe launch of Data.gov yesterday was accompanied by a lot of fanfare on Twitter and blogs.

I think it’s fantastic that Obama is following through on his promise to make government more transparent, and looking forward to Data.gov being a very useful tool. Right now though, it’s a bit wimpy. While there is a lot of data available in machine-readable formats, it hasn’t been translated into visualizations that humans can easily understand.

I should mention that US Government Web Services and XML Data Sources, a non-government site, has been collecting data released by the government and releasing mobile applets for a long time now.

In reaction to the launch of Data.gov, Sunlight Labs has launched Apps for America 2:

apps-for-america-2_-the-datagov-challenge

Just as the federal government begins to provide data in Web developer-friendly formats, we’re organizing Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge to demonstrate that when government makes data available, it makes itself more accountable and creates more trust and opportunity in its actions. The contest submissions will also show the creativity of developers in designing compelling applications that provide easy access and understanding for the public, while also showing how open data can save the government tens of millions of dollars by engaging the development community in application development at far cheaper rates than traditional government contractors.

A post on the White House blog, “Your Government & New Media,” encourages people to find out where agencies are getting involved online and use these venues to communicate with the government.

So, look for opportunities to jump in and connect with your government — at our websites and blogs, through videos and photos, in social networks, through widgets, podcasts, and more. Abraham Lincoln knew what he was talking about. This is government of the people, by the people, for the people.

View, comment, rate, participate, and share. The government is paying attention, even as we continue to learn ourselves. The more people engage, the more meaningful all of this becomes, and the more progress we can make.

Here is a list of examples of government being “cooler and more approachable than you think.” (Descriptions are added from each site.) I gathered these from multiple blogs and websites.

    pick-5-for-the-environment-us-epa

  • EPA’s Pick 5 to help the environment
  • Do more to protect the environment by choosing at least five actions (below) you’ll commit to. Pick 5 also helps you identify more actions you can take in the future. Then let others know what you committed to through Pick Five. Show the actions you’ve taken.

  • National Park Service Facebook App
  • You may use this application to share and view stories, experiences and galleries related to your experience our our nations wonderful National Park system.

  • Library of Congress Flickr photo stream
  • The Prints & Photographs Division takes care of 14 million of the Library’s pictures and features more than 1 million through online catalogs. Offering historical photo collections through Flickr is a welcome opportunity to share some of our most popular images more widely.

    peer-reviewed-prior-art-pilot

  • Peer-to-Patent project
  • Recently a group of academic and business professionals have proposed a collaborative, online process in which members of the public pool together their knowledge and locate potential prior art. This pilot will test whether such collaboration can effectively locate prior art that might not otherwise be located by the Office during the typical examination process.

  • Presidential Directives and Executive Orders
  • In this section you will find official actions by the President that have a significant impact on how the federal government functions but do not require legislation or Congressional approval. See listings below of the official Proclamations, Presidential Memoranda, and Executive Orders that President Obama has issued since his inauguration.

  • Freedom of Information Act
  • The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.

  • Transparency and Open Government
  • We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.

    recoverygov

  • Recovery.gov
  • As the centerpiece of the President’s commitment to transparency and accountability, Recovery.gov will feature information on how the Act is working, tools to help you hold the government accountable, and up-to-date data on the expenditure of funds.

  • White House Blog, Health Care Reform Forum (slideshow), Live Streaming from the White House, Open for Questions, Podcasts, President’s Weekly Address
  • Town Hall in Turkey
  • Serve.gov
  • This website is a new portal for you and all Americans to find your own ways to serve in your own communities. Just choose your keyword – “education,” “environment,” or whatever interests you – and type in your zip code to see what opportunities our partner organizations have in your area. Americans are putting their own country back on the right track, be a part of it.

  • Troop Tube
  • TroopTube is the new online video site designed to help military families connect and keep in touch while miles apart.

  • TSA blog and other federal blogs
  • U.S. Government channel on YouTube
  • The official YouTube channel of the U.S. Government, linking you to videos across government. Visit the playlists and other channels for a wide variety of interesting videos!

    dipnote

  • State Department’s DipNote blog, on Twitter, on Facebook
  • Official Blog of the U.S. Department of State – offers the public an alternative source to mainstream media for U.S. foreign policy information. This blog offers the opportunity for participants to discuss important foreign policy issues with senior Department officials.

  • USA.gov, USA.gov’s government FAQs, email and online chat, USA.gov on Twitter
  • As the U.S. government’s official web portal, USA.gov makes it easy for the public to get U.S. government information and services on the web. USA.gov also serves as the catalyst for a growing electronic government.

    federal-bureau-of-investigation-add-fbi-links-to-your-site

  • FBI widgets
  • Add links to FBI content by incorporating the widgets and modules below into your own website or blog.

  • Open Government Dialogue
  • This online brainstorming session, open from May 21st to 28th, 2009, will enable the White House to hear your most important ideas relating to open government.

  • Open Government Initiative and Innovations Gallery
  • Consistent with the President’s mandate, we want to be fully transparent in our work, participatory in soliciting your ideas and expertise, and collaborative in how we experiment together to use new tools and techniques for developing open government policy.

I hope these sites are useful to those interested in becoming involved in the direction of government for the next several years. If I missed any good ones, please leave them in the comments!

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More on packaged journalism

Thinking more about programming in journalism (not computer programming, the one we associate more with radio and television) I realized there are a few things news organizations are doing that are really similar to the concept of packaging news with an identity: blogs.

At most organizations, news blogs aren’t structured around an identity. Instead they are topical. Which could be better, in some ways, what I really hate about TV news is all the self-promoting, self-congratulatory anchors and show hosts. Sometimes, identity is a bad thing.

So I was poking around several news Web sites looking for good blogs, when I stumbled upon USA Today’s “communities.” The Community Center blog (keeping you apprised of conversations and opportunities on the site where readers are getting involved with USATODAY’s daily journalism) is a hub for the other blogs on the site, which look suspiciously like beatblogs to me.

Each blog has a designated author (or small group of authors) and appear to be updated several times a day.

But something bothers me. Which of these things is at all like the other?

    game-hunters-usatodaycom
  • technology-live-usatodaycom
  • cruise-log-usatodaycom

I really like the Interactivity blog – just wish it looked as nice as some of the others.

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2 Journalism Projects About People

One of the many reasons I use Twitter: finding out about what projects journalists are developing and launching.

Yesterday I saw two such posts:

and

1. Tampa Bay Mug Shots, also known to some as “Facebook for underachievers” is a simple and fun glance at booking data in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. A carousel of mug shots is accompanied by some basic crime data and arrest records.

The information presented here as a public service is gathered from open county sheriff’s Web sites in the Tampa Bay area. The booking mug shots and related information are from arrest records in the order and at the time the data was collected. Those appearing here have not been convicted of the arrest charge and are presumed innocent. Do not rely on this site to determine any person’s actual criminal record.

2. The Miami Herald’s 60 Seconds is actually a relaunch/update of an older project, and I worked with Stephanie Rosenblatt on the Flash video player during my internship at The Herald. There are 10 new videos in this series about South Florida characters.

I know that in some circles, this type of journalism may be looked down upon. No evils or corruptions exposed, no event described, no protesters sprayed with pepper spray.

But I see it as an example of what journalism should do more of: exposing a community to itself. In both cases, the profiles are of people who live or work in these communities. Just because it’s also entertaining (’cause I firmly believe that the funniest thing about any person is their mugshot) doesn’t mean it’s not useful and informative. Stories are still being told.

index

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Speaking at the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative

Next week I will be speaking to the students of the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative about online journalism and the future of news.

The West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative is a weekly program offered to sophomores, juniors or seniors from Bronx high schools.

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.

I’m nervous, because I’m really horrible at public speaking. But also because I have no idea what these kids know.

What’s the level of computer/Internet proficiency? Do they have access to computers at home? Do they read news online, have blogs, read blogs?

James Fergusson, the program coordinator and Editor of the Mount Hope Monitor, has told me that they have not discussed online journalism in class.

I got some great advice from Mindy McAdams, who told me not to assume that the kids are technologically ignorant. Even if they don’t have computers at home, the public libraries offer free access.

She also suggested that I show “Not Just a Number” and “The Mac” as examples of stories told by people about their own communities.

I can probably spend a few minutes at first figuring out what they know without looking like a total hack. The problem is how to adjust what I want to say to their level. After beating college reporters over the head with the “good news” for two semesters, I’m not sure how to condense the message to half an hour.

Any advice? What should these high-schoolers know about online journalism? What do I tell them about the future of news?

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Resolution and Project Update

So I made some resolutions in January, and two months into the new year I guess it’s about time to see how I’ve been doing.

One of the things I wanted to work on was posting to my blog more often. I did well in January, with 24 posts. But not so much this month, with one week left and only seven posts. Clearly, I’m going to have to work on plan to find, think or do more interesting things to write about.

As for learning Javascript…I’ve written a few simple scripts for pop-up windows and the like at work, but I haven’t been making progress with my Lynda.com videos. I’m thinking about finding a text resource; the Lynda.com videos go really slowly for me.

I have been making some progress on PHP, mostly through more advanced manipulations of WordPress. Haven’t started any formal learning though. Should wait until I’m done with Javascript.

Although I have not been writing for BrightHub once a week, and I’ve been neglecting NewsVideographer as well, I have been writing a whole lot for my Innovation Spotlight series at MediaShift. I had so many projects for January and February that I wrote mini-spotlights on the off-weeks. I’m looking for new projects now though…

I said in my resolutions post that I would produce one multimedia or web development project each month. I haven’t really kept up with that, mostly because every time I turn around, I get in my own way. Right now I’m dealing with some PostgreSQL issues on my Mac. However, I did edit this video for Quinn and Co., Public Relations.

My last resolution was about getting involved in my community. I got in touch with the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative a few weeks ago and I will be helping them out with a new Web site and hopefully a guest lecture.

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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
9. Comments

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!