Megan Taylor

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

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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.

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The Next Newsroom Conference

Yesterday was the first day of the Next Newsroom Conference, with keynote speakers and panels and all kinds of good discussion. Unfortunately, I missed the first couple of speakers, but Greg Linch totally has my back: check out his complete coverage of yesterday.

My notes from Randy Covington’s speech:
Newsplex:
Its not about formats or technology but on stories
cover stories across media
stories are better because of audio, video, community interactivity
we live in a mutli-media world
people are using media in diff ways

TRAINING

newsrooms will be different: no more assembly line
Edipresse – cubicles and open space 2002-2003

New roles for full media newsroom

Newsflow editor: story
directs coverage across formats and delivery services
integrates multiple products under unified editorial brand
service to a broad range of news consumers
multiskilled journalist: content
able to work in diff formats and do diff things (video, text, graphics, audio, photos and interactivity)
NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE THIS – BUT – bring in MORE multiskilled people who like to shape and control their own work
news resourcer: context
informatics journalist/editor
apply news judgement with understand of informational landscape
cybrarian, not news librarian
google is not good enough
story builder: experience
one editor handles story for all mediums
combines roles of print copy editor and broadcast producer
convergence organizational models:
Tampa Tribune

Nordjyske – denmark was dying, needed to reinvent, created an all-news cable channel on model of old cnn news, dont need lots of people
NOW – free papers, local papers, the news channel, 2 radio stations and a web site with 248 jous
editors for each medium refine the content
editorial depts serve all media
NOT one size fits all
started charging for tours, jous all over were willing to pay
super desk: groups for diff mediums in open space with editorial mtg place in the center

Daily Telegraph – london
24-hr digital multimedia newsroom
story components integrated from the start
three job titles: reporter, editor, producer
hub and spoke system for organization of newsroom

I’ll come back later and clean up the formatting on that. After Covington there was a panel discussion responding to questions posed by the audience through Twitter. So I stopped taking notes and made my commentary there instead. I’ll round that up into something cohesive later today as well. But you can check out the continuing conversation on Twitter.

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Seen it all?

I need new examples. I’ve seen chicagocrime.org at least a dozen times. I’ve explored it on my own. The same goes for many other sites that are presented during classes and conferences: MediaStorm, Google maps, NYT infographics, Onbeing

I go back to those same sites when I need an idea. When I need to be inspired. I try to figure out how I can do what they did. But I want more.

I want a website with resource links to all kinds of online journalism: databases, video, maps, graphics, design, you name it. Constantly updated so I can find new things.

Wait. It exists. It’s updated every day by hundreds of people. And it’s not limited to online journalism.

Del.icio.us.

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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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What the !@#$ is a community journalist

I’m getting pretty close to graduating, and so have been trolling the journalism job sites looking at job descriptions and employers. One of the job titles I see pop up pretty often is that of “community journalist.”

Now hold on a second…isn’t a journalist supposed to report on the happenings of his or her community? Isn’t that the whole point?

From a job description:

We cover stories ranging from local government to business profiles, features and school news, all with an eye toward real people. Our style is to engage our readers in solving community problems.

Yup, that’s what journalists do.

Another one:

This newspaper’s award-winning staff has gained national attention during the past year for its commitment to putting “community” back into journalism, and building a newspaper that its customers consider a “must read.”

When did community ever leave journalism? Is this a reaction to the hyper-local discussion?
Every journalist is reporting on a community. Be it a neighborhood, a city, county, state, country, these are all communities.

Buzzwords are silly.

I found this checklist in my archives somewhere, but have no idea where it originated (Bryan, is this you again?). A lot of these things we aren’t doing or are just starting at The Alligator with our three-week-old CMS, but I thought a run-through the list now will make it that much more impressive when I check again in a few months.

Is your web team able to flex work hours, responsibilities and skills?

My team rocks! We have been putting in all kinds of crazy hours to get our new CMS running smoothly and get new articles up each day. We are an assorted bunch with varying skill sets, so we can handle just about anything that gets thrown our way.

Do you need freelancers or others in the newsroom that can sit in and help publish the massive stream of content you’ll have?
(I really shouldn’t need to say this in August 2007 but…) Is your newsroom logistically ready to file and edit for the web before print?

I really wish we had some more hands around the office. The Web site is up before the papers hit the streets each morning, but only just. I wish we could be updating all day, but as a student-run paper, it is difficult to work around classes and other schedules. This is an area we need to work really hard in.

Do you have some sort of tools (forums, message boards or databases) for family/friend contacts if people are missing, databasing opening/closings or any other searchable, community information opportunities?

Nothing yet. There’s only three of us working full-time, hopefully we can get started on some really cool projects soon.

Do you have a breaking news blog ready at the flick of a switch?

Our new blogs should be up next week, and will include a breaking news section.

Does your site have an ‘armageddon’ design? (So that you can drop a package above the fold for massive news with huge images and headline fonts?)

The top story on our front page always has a big headline and a photo, so this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Is all of your reporting staff skilled in editing and filing remotely for stories, photos, audio and video? Do they regularly do it? (Believe me, working tech support remotely can sometimes be more frustrating that not having any extra multimedia content from the scene.)

Nope. We can do it, but reporters have not been trained yet.

Is your workflow streamlined and standardized so that turning multimedia content quickly is easy?

I’ve been really excited when a reporter or photographer takes the initiative to grab video, audio, or photos. But then my team has to go in early to edit and put things together.

Have you explored the social media tools already available out there so that you can use to connect people with information?

We are working on a Facebook application as well as a Google gadget, but these are not available yet. We do have article tools for sharing with Facebook, Digg, etc.

What about social contributions to maps? What about social sharing of news tips? What about social sharing of photos, video, audio? How are you going to solicit, retain and manage all that social stuff? (An email account and one body probably won’t cut it.)

No, no, no, and I have no idea. But someday…

Even tech issues like, do you have the bandwidth available to handle getting slammed? What can you jettison in times of emergency to make your site move faster? (For instance, Roanoke, cut some of their ad serving during the Virginia Tech shootings to keep the site trudging on.) Have you talked among department leaders about this plan? Who’s mission control? Who’s below that? Is this plan written down somewhere and reviewed occasionally among all the staff?

I’ve never seen the site go down due to bandwidth, though we have been having some other problems with the servers. But minimizing if a rush occurred should be pretty easy. We don’t have any formal plan, my staff and I would make a judgment call and implement it.

So, this checklist makes us seem kinda pathetic. I wish I could give long, glowing, positive answers to every question. I hope that when I go back through at the end of this semester, I can at least stop saying, “Well, no, but we’re working on it.”

I’ve written about editing before, in terms of design, importance, and my advanced editing class. But I’d like to dig back down through some of my notes on diversity, ageism, sexism, bias, ethics, taste etc.

One of the first things that we discussed was verifying stories.

An editor hears about a great story for the next days’ paper. There is only one source for the story and no names, no way to double-check the facts. But oh, god, it’s a good story. And there’s no real reason for your source to lie to you, is there?

But man, does your paper look dumb when readers start calling in. My view on the issue:

There is a risk to be taken if the story is important enough. Otherwise, sit on it.
One way to handle this might be to take advantage of the casual atmosphere of the Internet. Maybe you paper has a blog or a forum. Post your unverified story there, and let the community help you verify or deny it. Or make a space especially for rumors.

Next up: hyper local journalism. This is especially topical with the recent breakdown of Backfence.

One of the things that seems to be left out of journalism classes is basic business sense. While it is important to learn as many different ways to tell stories as possible, the trend of this transition to the Internet suggests that journalists also need to know how to monetize their stories, perhaps how to survive as a freelancer.

Hyper local news sites are breaking down the barrier between “journalist” and “reader”, but dealing with the same problems as every other news site: monetization, advertising, ethics and quality.

The best advice to take from the hyper local trend is “Think like a user, not a publisher.” This is something that must be considered at every stage: from building the site to writing articles, to allowing users to post comments, articles and pictures.

Tomorrow: Stories that don’t get told, journalism and math.

Classes in Review Series
Preview

More important than the “Eight historical mistakes the newspaper industry made” were the eight solutions posted by Howard Owens on Monday.

My picks:

  • Fix your classifieds. Make online free, with pay-for-print up sells and enhanced classifieds; make classifieds a social networking opportunity; promote the hell out of the fact that your classifieds still reach more people than any other local alternative.
  • Put a great universal search engine on your site, and crawl all content (not just your own site) related to your coverage area.
  • Be the platform. Update frequently, encourage participation, add more and broader levels of content, converse with your site visitors.

Then today, Angela Grant threw TV news sites a few bones.
My favorites:

  • First, make the sites about the news and not the “talent.” Who cares about them anyways? Not me.
  • Ditch shovel ware. Instead of uploading exactly what you broadcast, edit videos specifically for the Web.
  • Make all your videos embeddable in blogs and any other site.

But wait, just TV news? Angela’s points apply (almost) equally to all news sites.

Be newsy, be real, be diverse (content, media, etc.), be useful and find ways to make the money without alienating your community.

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Nikon’s Advertising

200 citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina received free D40 cameras from Nikon and a license to shoot.

Nikon used the pictures and the story to create a brilliant advertisement for the D40.

The pictures on display were taken by 8 amateurs, which is supposed to show that the D40 is a great camera in any body’s hands.
Along with profiles of the participants, which include multimedia, is a photo gallery that is comment-enabled.

The whole package almost feels like journalism. Blurring the lines much?

My peeve: the only reason I found this Web site is because I happened to actually watch a commercial. I only saw the commercial once. Why spend so much time on this project and then not scream the URL from every possible medium?

I just thought it was interesting for an advertisement to have such depth.

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(J)journalist/(P)programmer

Two recent events set off a discussion among the journalists whose blogs I read to the effect of: Do journalists need to be programmers?

Adrian Holovaty got a grant to go off and spend his days working on EveryBlock, and Northwestern University got a grant to provide scholarships to computer programmers who want to learn journalism.

Of course, this discussion has occurred in classrooms and newsrooms already, but this was the first explosion on the subject online. At the root, the problem is that in order to create great online content, SOMEONE in the newsroom needs to be able to work with databases (PHP), ActionScript (Flash), and CSS. But newspapers aren’t hiring, or programmers don’t get involved in journalism, or something occurs that prevents the newsroom from having access to someone who can write some code.

Here are some of the opinions that have appeared:

(A lot of people are differentiating between Programmers and programmers, Writers and writers. That’s why I use upper- and lower-cases differently.)

Matt Waite: In 2 separate posts, Matt explains the reasons newsrooms need programmers and who should/shouldn’t be learning it. His position is not that all journalists should learn to code, but that the people who have an interest in both writing and programming can bring more to the table. Ultimately, “Journalism needs all the innovators it can get.”

David Cohn: David, clearly on the side of journalists learning to code, asks where the scholarships are to teach journalists to program, and points out that the hot players in geek journalism are journalists turned coders, not the other way around.

Dan Gilmor: Journalists don’t need to learn to program, they need to learn how to work with programmers.

William Hartnett: “Journalists need to know programming. Not all of us, but some.” He differentiates between Programming and programming, and argues that some programming can be considered journalistic tasks, “clean up dirty personnel records from the school district or parse some messy addresses in crime data from the sheriff’s office.”

Scott Rosenberg: Scott supports the idea of journalists learning programming, but they don’t need to Program. More important, they need to understand the technology available for storytelling online.

Howard Owens: Howard is a journalist/programmer himself. But he recommends that journalists learn new skills that compliment their talents and individual situations. And these new skills should be applicable online. In a later update, Howard says the instead of all running off to learn to code, journalists should “figure out the niche your employer needs filled, and fill it.”

To me, online journalism encompasses all of the aspects of the Internet, be it code or multimedia. I’m not sure you can call yourself an Online Journalist if your Web page is all HTML tables and a few lines of PHP make you quiver like Jell-o. If you don’t feel comfortable writing code from scratch, you should at least be able to edit it.

I’m definitely in favor of a scholarship for journalist/programmers and programmer/journalists. I feel like some journalism students are afraid to learn code because it is associated with, or feels like, math. I’m no math genius, I never got past statistics, and the only math I’ve come across so far is adding up margins and padding in CSS and adding seconds for audio in ActionScript.

I may never be able to build anything as cool as chicagocrime.org. But I enjoy coding, in the same way that I enjoy writing. So scholarship or not, I’ll learn how to manipulate database information, build time lines and maps in Flash, and anything else that looks like a great way to spread information online.

Edit: Matt can’t seem to keep his site up and running, so you’ll have to search archives.org for his post.