Megan Taylor

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

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SOJO is dead, Megan’s blog lives on

I’ve decided to retire SOJO: Student of Online Journalism as the title of my blog.

Although I am always learning, and in some respect will always remain a “Student of Online Journalism,” my posts have been veering farther and father from that topic.

I will continue to write about “the Web, the media and journalism,” and my own experiences in these areas. I’ll probably write about some other random stuff too.

But I’ve graduated from school, and as harsh as the real world is in comparison, that’s where I live now. So, good-bye SOJO. But I’m going to keep writing.

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A journalist outside of j-school

…not quite like a fish out of water.

I graduated from the University of Florida 5 months ago, and it took this long to realize that while I brag that everything I know comes to me from Google Reader and Twitter, I knew a lot more when I was surrounded by other journalists.

I knew who the badass journalists were, I knew when and where the awesome conferences were and I knew where to turn for any other information I didn’t have at my fingertips.

Now I’m 1,000 miles away from that network. I don’t know anybody here, I don’t know where to look for all the things I used to know.

So my question today is, as a journalist learning to be out of school, where do I turn?

I want to know when there are good conferences or panels in the city. I want to forge relationships with other journalists. Where before I was guided by my teachers, I now have to do these things myself.

Any advice?

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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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Florida journo living in NYC

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. My first reaction to being up north was “Holy crap, I can walk outside and not instantly have to take a shower!”

Two weeks after moving into our apartment, it finally feels like home. Took a while to get the couch, bookshelves, refrigerator, desk chair…we’re still waiting on the mailbox keys. These things take time.

There are a lot of new things to take in:

I’ve been doing a lot of job interviews in Lower Manhattan. We live in Kings Bridge Heights, which is almost as far north as you can get and still be in the City. So it takes me about 45 mins to get where I’m going. Then, since I’m already in the area, I spend some time getting lost, taking the wrong trains, window shopping and just taking in the local scenery. I’ve spent hours wandering around Broadway and Canal St. in the last few days.

Our first couple of days here I got really excited every time we had to walk up or down a hill. Gimme a break, we don’t have hills in Miami. (Unless you count Mt. Trashmore.) I’ve learned the truth about hills: walking uphill sucks.

There is also the delightful surprise!-this-is-a-deadend-actually-it’s-a-flight-of-stairs-in-the-middle-of-a-street phenomenon. A street will literally turn into several flights of stairs before turning back into a street. Wha?!

Straws. How come every bottle of Mountain Dew or Becks has to come with a straw? I don’t want a straw. The bottles are too tall for the straws. Since my beverage was sealed until I opened it, I’m really not THAT concerned about touching my mouth to the rim. Straws are just another thing I have to find a garbage can for, along the with the bag and the receipt.

The subway system itself is a magical world filled with the possibilities of getting lost. Really, really lost. Never mind that I’m not familiar with the city, stick me underground and the only directions I’m sure of are up and down. Emerging into the sunlit world once more, it’s only Google Maps Mobile that keeps me from spending even more time wandering aimlessly around.

New York is the dirtiest, meanest and simultaneously most wonderful place I’ve ever been.

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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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Internship, week 2

So last week I got one of my projects to the “show it to the boss” point. Supposedly it’s going live tomorrow. I will link then.

My story has been postponed until “official action has been taken” whatever that means. Oh, well.

I have 2 other projects to finish this week, plus a couple of long-term data projects, and the grapevine tells me I’m getting a new assignment today. This is good, cause I’m used to high-pressure deadlines and that hasn’t been the case so far.

Over the weekend I purchased Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by UF’s very own Bill McKeen, as well as The Definitive Guide to Django: Web Development Done Right, by Adrian Holovaty and Jacob Kaplan-Moss.

I can’t wait for these to come in. I really want to continue to learn different programming languages and frameworks. My internet access at home right now consists of finding an open wireless network on my street and sitting outside with the mosquitoes, so some books will be really helpful.

If anyone wants to recommend other books or online resources, please do!

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Comment Inspired: Job Descriptions

About a week ago this comment showed up here on my blog:

“I’d like to learn more about the process to publish at a professional epaper, about functions and tasks of reporter, sub-editor, IT technician, web master… Could you tell me about those? Tks”

I’ve spent the last week trying to define these different jobs, and I’m not satisfied with what I came up with. Every newspaper seems to function differently, especially as far as publishing online goes.

Anyone want to chip in some descriptions?

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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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IRE Django Bootcamp

Today through Sunday I’ll be attending the 2008 IRE Conference in Miami. Today I’m locked in a room with about 10 others being sprayed with the firehose of Django.

I’ve played with Django a bit before, but now we’re getting serious. I’ve got my local Django session running and am poking around while Matt Waite, Aron Pilhofer and Chase Davis break us down and rebuild us in the image of Adrian Holovaty or Derek Willis.

This morning we went over the concepts behind Web frameworks and Django, looked at the code behind a homicide database and set up the local administration page. This afternoon we’ll be going over each type of file necessary to build a Web application in Django.

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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.