Megan Taylor

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

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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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Journalism Curriculum

Somehow, not being in school anymore just makes me more interested in the evolution of curriculum at journalism schools.

No, it’s not a subconscious desire to teach. I’ve not the temperament for that.

But I’ve been collecting information about what’s being taught, perhaps in the hopes that they’ll teach something I don’t know, thereby giving me an excuse to go back to school.

My, that sounds arrogant. But I only mean that I’ve been through the traditional journalism curriculum, took some online media courses and taught myself a hell of a lot in my spare time.

Bryan Murley updated his syllabus for the multimedia course he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

Most of the syllabus is the same as it was during the last semester, however, I’m spending much more time on audio and video, with lots of repetition and building upon core concepts.

Also, I should note that we’re using Final Cut Express this semester instead of iMovie. I’m done with iMovie until it is more stable and edits audio easier.

Andrew Dunn reports changes to the curriculum at the University of North Carolina, which now requires a class called “Audio-Video Information Gathering.” The UNC curriculum includes specializations choices of Multimedia and Electronic Communication (whatever that is).

Through University of Florida fact-finding professor Cory Armstrong, I found out about a new course at UNC: Public Affairs Reporting For New Media.

As near as I can tell, students in the course pick a topic for the semester and do some in-depth research, including multi-media elements, to develop a package.

The professor, Ryan Thornburg, is blogging about the class.

This is one that I’m really interested in, since I did something similar as an independent study with Professor Armstrong.

Fred Stutzman, also at UNC, has been teaching Online Social Networks for several semesters now.

This course is a primer on the study of online social networks. We will explore the theory, methods and findings of a growing literature on the topic. We will also explore applications and use cases, particularly in the context of education and library/information services. While online social networks are but a subset of social software, this course should provide you a strong set of fundamentals for exploring the multiple facets of our pervasive online sociality.

Mindy McAdams is teaching a new multimedia reporting class at UF as well as updating her Flash class (Advanced Online Media Production).

Students taking Multimedia Reporting will learn to:

  • Gather digital audio and upload it to a computer
  • Edit digital audio and produce an MP3 file
  • Edit, crop and resize photos; optimize photos for online use
  • Create an audio slideshow using Soundslides
  • Shoot simple video suitable for online distribution
  • Edit video with a simple editing program
  • Prepare video for online distribution

Lastly, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, changes are planned.

The new, proposed curriculum shift places a deeper, more thorough emphasis on awareness, understanding and application of online journalism skills and the training begins in the freshman year.

Stories CoJMC students write, photographs, advertising, marketing campaigns, video news reports and documentaries will be produced by hundreds of CoJMC students for the NewsNetNebraska Web site.

For those of us no longer in school and feeling left out, Dave Lee wrote about how journalists can continue their online education, well, online.

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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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Election Emotions

I don’t remember people’s reactions when Clinton was elected. I remember being angry, in a trendy “Everyone hates on Bush” way, after the election in 2000. In 2004, I almost left the country. But in none of those elections did I understand, as I only begin to now, the chain of events that starts with this one crazy night. I wanted to try to document the range of emotions I’ve seen people around me go through as the election ended and in the past day or so.

The day of the election, while I was bouncing off the walls with excitement and anxiety, people at the office seemed really calm. Someone even said to me, “I wonder who will win, but really, it’s not like it can get any worse.”

When it was all over, I could hear people outside my apartment screaming, honking, and generally celebrating. Even though you could see the same happening on the TV, it was cool to know that people around me were so emotionally involved in this election.

Yesterday a friend told me that when he looks at the people around him, they seem happier. They have hope.

This morning I got into a conversation on the train with a middle-aged black woman. She spoke about how she never thought she would see a black President of the United States. About what this means for everyone, “but especially for minority kids.” She was practically glowing as she spoke of a friend who is 106 years old, and has lived through so much radical change.

I often hear people complain about how hard emotions are to read off a computer screen. I find it rather easy. Everything I read seems to be charged with the energy of change. Whether its because he’s black, a Democrat, Internet-savvy, or just the lesser of two evils, a lot of people seem to be thinking happy thoughts.

Now all we need is some pixie dust.

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Election Afterthoughts

Last night was one of most exciting of my life. I got to watch America do something special.

I got home around 6:30, right after the first polls closed. I stayed hooked to television and computer until just after President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was an amazing experience.

During past elections, information was sought largely from television news. This time, I paid more attention to a large selection of Web sites than to the obnoxious commentary of political analysts. Apparently, so did a lot of other people:

According to Akamai, which is the content delivery network for most major news sites including CNN (which had a record day on its own), NBC, Reuters, and the BBC, global visitors to news sites peaked last night at 11 PM with 8,572,042 visitors per minute.
That is double the normal traffic level, and 18 percent above the previous peak of 7.3 million visitors per minute achieved during the World Cup back in June, 2006. (The third biggest peak to news sites was last March during the first day of the U.S. college basketball playoffs when it hit 7 million visitors per minute).(TechCrunch)

Most of the links below aren’t to news sites, though. These are passionate and creative people who found different ways to reflect on what we all saw last night. A little bit of meta-coverage, if you will.

Mark Luckie put together a time-lapse video of the NYTimes home page from last night. It starts while voters are still at the polls and ends with Obama’s victory. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” was an inspired musical choice.

Mark Newman and his cartogram software showed how skewing the normal red/blue map according to population or electoral votes is a better graphical representation of how America voted.

Daily Kos collected headlines and newspaper front pages in the US and elsewhere. Excellent collection with some really creative designs.

My friend Matthew Gonzalez grabbed some screen shots from news Web sites’ home pages. I really love the NYTimes treatment.

Designer Robb Montgomery collects his best picks of front pages. I have to agree, the Chicago Sun-Times front is amazingly powerful. He also brings us “a video tour and spot critique of top U.S. media Web sites and their election graphics at the moment when Sen. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election.”

ReadWriteWeb put together a really cool slideshow of election coverage online, showing resources from Twitter to Ustream, news sites and more.

Mindy McAdams put together her own slideshow of voting maps and home pages.

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Journalism job trends

Ever since I made my relationship with journalism official – I finally committed on paper as a junior in college – I’ve been trolling JournalismJobs.com. That obsession only grew when I graduated 2 months ago.

I keep an eye out for opportunities for myself and people I know, but also for trends: what skills are wanted, what kinds of jobs are open, where papers are hiring.

The first two things I noticed were that the average years of experience desired had gone up, and there were more upper-echelon jobs open. Years of experience went from 2-3 to 5-and-up over the past year or so. Just out of college, that’s not good news for me. I also see a lot more ____ Editor jobs – not counting the ubiquitous “Web” or “online” editor position (usually a cut-and-paste job!) – and sports writing positions. Why are there so many sports positions open when that’s one of the most popular beats in the newsroom?

More interesting than the job titles are the job descriptions. Lists of skills and vague descriptions of expected duties tell us almost as much about the state of journalism as the recent spate of layoffs.

My favorite job description is the search for “computer jesus”. These are the job descriptions that list 100 programming languages plus multimedia skills. Yea, right. Am I running the entire news site and producing content all by myself?

Then there’s the “we don’t know what we want you to do but we’re supposed to hire an online person” job description. This one, from The Times-News in Idaho, actually made me want to cry:

Must have visual design skills and be knowledgeable on Internet concepts and the latest developments on the Web. Must be proficient in PHP, HTML, Javascript, XML, Macromedia Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Writing skills are a plus. (emphasis added)

Writing skills are a plus? Are you serious? Hiring a journalist – you’re doing it wrong.

I realize that a lot of these are written by people who really don’t know enough to narrow down what they want. And I’m not trying to put those people down. But between this post on putting together a Web team and this one on journalism job salaries, I thought there was a place for a little something on the chaotic state of journalism job descriptions.

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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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Things to learn at The Alligator

I’ve been working at The Independent Florida Alligator since the beginning of the summer. And I’ve learned a lot about the Web, news, multimedia, design, and programming.

Perhaps the most important area in which I’ve grown is how I deal with others on a day-to-day basis.

I have a pretty short fuse. I get frustrated easily, I have a big mouth, I love to complain. I curse at the computer regularly and will talk to anyone for hours about how much I despise our content management system. I spend way to much time in front of a computer, so I can be a little socially handicapped.

That’s no excuse. Coming from a manager, the people I work with don’t take all this as just blowing steam. It makes them more reluctant to work online. It keeps them from suggesting new projects because they don’t know how far we can push the limitations of the CMS.

So I’m learning, slowly, about diplomacy and silence and waiting until I’m alone to scream and tear my hair out. It’s really hard. But worth the effort. The less I kvetch, the more people wander past my desk and ask what I’m doing for such-and-such an article.

It’s important for online journalists to be visible and positive about what they do.

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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: Making Data Webby

with Adrian Holovaty! This is the highlight for me, since my background is more programming and I’m defenitely a huge geek. Seeing Adrian speak was the deciding factor in coming to SND.

How to take data and make it efficient in terms of how the hypertext is laid out. Example: Wikipedia = Serendipity

Journalists are essentially collectors of data.

Rant #1 No serendipity in online journalism. Bullshit!
Data browseability: people want it and expect it. (IMDB, Amazon.com)

Serendipity increases stickiness and usefulness.

It all starts with structure. Have a structured list of data (facts) like an Excel spreadsheet. Journalists take clean data and turn it into a story. Computer programs can’t read the story. News orgs have the infrastructure to collect data, edit and verify the data and get the data to people. But they don’t leverage the data!

Lesson #1 Structure your data
Everything has structure. Sports. Obits. Even photos: subject, photographer, where, when, camera, size, colors (Flickr)

After the structure, the easy part.

Lesson #2 Give your data “the treatment”
Example: crime data
Step 1: lists fields (date, time, type, address, location, arrests, case number)
Step 2: key concepts (what data is useful? date, time, type, address, location)
Step 3: make breakdowns (list all possible values for each field)
Step 4: make list pages (pages for each value in each field)
Step 5: detail pages (pages for each crime)

Things to note
– Permalinks for concepts (distinct URL) linkability/bookmarkability
– SEO
– Serendipity

Example sites: chicagocrime.org, Faces of the Fallen, Video Game Reviews, Mixed Messages.