Megan Taylor

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

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College media needs CMS options

A few days ago I got an email from Daniel Bachhuber, who is working with the Oregon Daily Emerald.

He wanted to know if I was interested in discussion content management system options for college media. After my time as online managing editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, struggling with a CMS that liked to fight dirty, I’ve daydreamed of building a modular open-source system myself.

The problem:

College Publisher is an inappropriate platform for student newspapers
but most newspapers don’t have the resources to custom roll their own
CMS.

The Alligator uses TownNews, but the idea is the same.

Daniel started a wiki, College News Press, as well as a mailing group to keep track of ideas and coordinate discussion. The wiki includes tasks, benchmarks and platform comparisons.

His vision:

  • To create an easy to deploy, simple to use (open source?) content management system (CMS) with varying levels of sophistication that is specifically geared towards the student newspaper and local news market.
  • To provide abundant knowledge resources to student newspapers interested in switching platforms that have minimal IT manpower.

Daniel is even submitting an application for the Knight News Challenge!

I’m really excited to work on this, even though I’m no longer a member of the college media sector. The two biggest problems with newspaper Web sites are site design and CMS limitations. Hacking a CMS should not be among the things we have to do to be innovative.

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Less talk, more work

There’s a new trend in online journalism these days: Stop talking, and do it.

Stop trying to convert, stop making lists, stop fighting the print bias with words. Start doing things that will make the difference.


David Cohn
wrote:

I think the time for evangelizing is over. At this point if you are in a mainstream news organization and you don’t see the need for change, the battle is lost and I’m not going to spend time trying to convince you to change the culture in your newsroom. I will simply shake your hand, wish you an honest good luck and move on…If you want to see real change – don’t tell news room editors what to do – DO IT YOURSELF.

And Zac Echola, writing about Wired Journalists, wrote:

Something happened early this year in the media blogging world. We suddenly stopped talking about what we should be doing and started talking about what we are doing. We started talking about being the change we wish to see. It was at the same time a jarring change in tone and an exhilarating one.
Now is the time to be that catalyst for change in your news organization. No more talking about it. We’re doing it. And we want you to do it too.

Wired Journalists is a social networking site set up by Ryan Sholin, Howard Owens and Zac Echola after Owen’s post on getting wired.
In a very short amount of time, the site has gained over 300 members. It opens up discussions, not on why online journalism is important, but how to start doing it. Members are both newbies and established “wired” journalists.

I realized today that consciously or not, the “just do it” trend is affecting me, too. I spent a lot of time at The Independent Florida Alligator last semester trying to win over some very print-oriented editors. I spent a lot of time making lists of projects I wanted to start. Not that I didn’t get anything done; we made a lot of progress on getting our content management system working the way WE wanted it to work.

But this semester I’ve spent more time actually ticking projects off that list. I finally got the Gainesville Explorer project running. A multimedia stringer made a map of apartment complexes in Gainesville. Yea, that’s right, I have stringers. (I think we need to change this lingo, minion is a much cooler word.) I met with some of the business staff regarding the missing alumni page. I’ve gotten the editor and managing editor for print writing blog posts. All in just three weeks.

This is a hell of a lot more fun than fighting print bias and trying to get reporters to see the light.

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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.

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 love lists. They give me direction, options, and when completed, a sense of accomplishment.

Bryan Murley recently reposted his checklist of things college media sites should consider. Of course my first thought was to see how my own college media outlet is doing:

* Have you got your news org. online?

The Alligator has been online for a while, although until recently the site left much to be desired.

* Do you have a content management system?

We just launched the new Alligator site with a content management system and a new design. Yay!

* Have you posted any videos online?

Yes we have. In fact, on Thursday two reporters handed me video – a first!

* Have you included any audio soundbites in a story?

I have the soundbites on my computer…they just haven’t made it to the correct format for the Web site yet.

* Have you done a photo slideshow?

Yes, several.

* Have you put up an audio slideshow (perhaps using Soundslides)?

Yes.

* Have you done a map?

Yes.

* Have you used weblogs on your site?

Like the soundbites, this is in the works.

* Have you uploaded source documents (PDFs, excel spreadsheets, etc.) to accompany a big story?

YES! Even on the old site, documents were often uploaded when provided by the reporters.

* Have you used social media (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube) to market your stories?

There is an Alligator Facebook group, and individual articles on the new site now feature sharing tools.

* Have you tracked what others are saying about you via Technorati or Google Blogsearch?

Nope.

* Have you used the web site to post breaking news online FIRST?

Still trying to figure this one out. We have put a couple f breaking sports stories up before they went to print though.

* Have you moved the online editor out of the back office and into a position of authority?

Well, I guess we kind of moved ourselves out of the back office.

* Have you allowed comments on your stories?

Yes. I have been pleasantly surprised with the intelligence of many of the comments posted to the site. We decided not to review comments and to remove them only if a complaint was lodged, or if we saw a “flame war” starting up.

* Have you encouraged writers to write for the Web and include hyperlinks in their stories?

I’m hoping this will go hand-in-hand with blogging. Right now, when we are putting up new stories, if we see an opportunity for a link, it goes in.

* Have you tried something experimental?

We’ve got a few projects in the works, but right now energy is tied up in making the workflow efficient and working the kinks out of the new site.

So far, I think we’re doing pretty good! Of course, in this case, the “checklist” is never really completed. But I’ll be happy if I can get out of the office by 1:30 a.m. every night instead of 3 a.m.

In the last week, I started a new semester, launched a website with a new CMS and design, stayed awake for 48 hours, got sick, got well, spent an unjustifiable amount of money on books, cleaned my apartment twice, turned 21, interviewed three people, and caught up on the summer backlog.

But thus far, I have met with success on all fronts.

This semester is really exciting for me because I am the New Media Managing Editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, 9 months away from graduation, and my various connections and activities are going places and getting results. Awesome. It’s also very stressful, for the same reasons. Trying to sync up schedules at three different jobs during the first week of classes results in a lot of mayhem, but that should be settled now. All I have to do is not fall behind.

My responsibilities for this semester include:

  • · Bringing more people, news and multimedia to The Independent Florida Alligator web site
  • · 4 classes: Photographic Journalism, Problems and Ethics in Journalism, Reporting and Writing for the Web, and Advanced Interactive Reporting
  • Advanced Interactive Reporting is a brand new class governed by self-directed learning in which we will be designing a converged newsroom. At least, that’s what the syllabus says. So far, I’m still not sure what we’re doing, except that it will involve multimedia and teamwork. Fun.

  • · Consulting at the UF Computing Help Desk
  • · Updating and upgrading the Citizen Access Project Web site
  • · Writing a weekly post for Angela Grant’s News Videographer blog
  • · and of course, keeping up my own blog!

I know that looks like a lot of work, but I’m confident that I can get it all done with my usual determination and of course, endless bottles of Mountain Dew.

The beginning has passed, and I just have to keep going.

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Newsies and CMS

The UF Newsies are moving from The Undertone to our own blog on the Gainesville Sun site.

This is great, because the site will be geared towards what we write about rather than just filling in space.

However, I’m already seeing some problems with the CMS (content management system).

Rather than uploading a full-sized image into the blog post, the best you seem to be able to do is add a thumbnail to the post which people have to click on to see the full sized image. While videos, podcasts, and photos can be uploaded to the blog, they are not
integrated well with the blog posts themselves.

The photos at least, show up nice and big in the RSS feed. (That’s right, we have an RSS feed now!)

I don’t know what program is powering the site.

I’ve seen this a few times now, where the CMS that a company is using just doesn’t lend itself to facilitating the use of multimedia. It makes me want to go back to old-school HTML editing. (Not just because it would increase my own marketability.)

I even have trouble with WordPress occasionally, though to be honest some of that is because I haven’t had a chance to go through my CSS and PHP with a microscope yet.

Is there a favorite CMS among media companies that makes this easy?

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From The Undertone

Dating Ideas by Megan Taylor

I created a map using Atlas for this article. Due to some limitations of the CMS, the map is kinda small and you have to scroll through it. Here’s a better version:

Edit: OK, this is pretty cool. The article I wrote for The Undertone just showed up in my Gainesville Sun rss feed.

Yet another edit: Got the map fixed.

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Mapping in online journalism

My editor has been pushing hard to get photos along with our stories for The Undertone. And rightly so.

When I was assigned to write an article, (which won’t appear for a couple of weeks) the first thing that popped into my head was to use Atlas and embed it on the Web site. It appeared we might have some trouble with the content management system that we’re using, so I sent her the code along with some still pictures just in case. I haven’t heard back from her yet. But if all goes well, mine might be the second use of Atlas in college media.

Bryan at Innovation in College Media wrote today about the first (as far as he knows) use of the Atlas mapping tool.