Megan Taylor

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

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I’m in the gray, working with public relations

I’ve been wanting to write a bit about what I’m doing and where I’m working, but had trouble figuring out how to approach the subject.

You see, I work for a PR company.

I can hear you all gasping. No, I have NOT crossed over to the “dark side.”

PR companies are scrambling like most other institutional businesses to figure out this whole “Internet thing.” My job as “Digital Media Intern” is to move Quinn & Co. forward by teaching how social media works. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, the whole kit and caboodle.

So I’ve been doing lots of research: what’s the best blogging platform for their purposes, how can the company and their clients build loyalty through Twitter and Facebook, how to monitor brands with Google Alerts, optimizing press releases and websites for search engines, and building lists of bloggers and micro-bloggers for Real Estate, Travel and Food, Wine & Spirits.

I’ve also been doing some multimedia work: a video from a media panel, working on an interactive email design.

All of which is very helpful in getting to my goal.

I want to work in news. No question. I don’t care if it’s a newspaper, magazine, radio station, because when you get to the website, it’s all the same.

Ultimately, news outlets have to learn the kinds of things I’m learning now. How do you build niche audiences online? How do you manage an online community? And so on.

While my true love is reporting through multimedia (including data), this is fun, too. I’ve never liked the black hat/white hat metaphor, so I’m working in shades of gray.

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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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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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Suggestions for changes at SOJo

This week I’ve been thinking about restructuring some areas of this site, as well as getting into a more stable posting schedule.

The first area of concern is the sidebar of this blog. I’ve already started messing with a few things, for example the blogroll. I had the blogroll pulling automatically from a folder in Google Reader. But I think its more serviceable to have links to things I’ve read or bookmarked recently, instead of a list of sites I may or may not have updated in months. What do you think?

What items are actually useful in a blog sidebar? What should go higher or lower? What do you look for?

I’m also going to change the postings from Delicious. I’ve been having problems with their auto-posting service for my bookmarks, and I’d rather have real content on here and put bookmarks in the sidebar. Besides, you can always grab the feed from my Delicious page or add me to your network.

My Twitter account is basically my “lifestream,” and I don’t want to duplicate that too much here. But I still want to provide easy access to all that information. Maybe a separate page that displays that?

I also need to update the Clips section. I want to provide a little more context, maybe break it up into sections for text, video, programming, etc.

I’d love any suggestions, and you’ll notice a few changes as I figure out what I want to do this week.

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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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Miami Herald’s updated Health section

Well, my first project is live! The Health section of the Miami Herald’s Web site has been redesigned.

My contribution is that slick-looking sidebar on the right. I had some help from Stephanie Rosenblatt for the graphics, and of course she put together the Doctor Sleuth. (They are using Caspio and I have been too busy for training!) The tabs on the results pages are mine though.

There’s some more projects on the table for the Health section, so hopefully I’ll get to be more involved over the next few weeks.

I finished working on a little PHP script today, with Rob Barry’s help, that queries, parses and geocodes some data. Hopefully we’ll have that into the DataSleuth system soon.

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The Alligator rockin’ at 10,000 Words

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words isn’t “just a blogger,” he’s a print journalist gone online. Luckie has been looking at college journalism this week, and The Independent Florida Alligator got some awesome mentions:

Online Student Journalism: Best of the Best

1. The Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida
The Alligator is hands down the best online student newspaper and rivals the pros in its news coverage and use of multimedia elements. Just listing the stellar components that make up the site warrant its own individual post. The Alligator’s standout features are the Gainesville
Explorer , a look at the surrounding city using video and audio slideshows, the use of Google Maps mashups to illustrate problems like apartment overcrowding and rising gas prices, and its 11 blogsthat cover pretty much every spectrum of news. Admittedly The Alligator works on a larger scale than most student newspapers, but it is nevertheless an exceptional example of the possibility of online student journalism.

What a payoff for all the hard work we’ve done!

Online Student Journalism: Outstanding Use of Multimedia or Social Networking

7. Twitter, The Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida

It seems everyone is Twitteringthese days, but The Alligator is one of very few student newspapers doing so. The site uses twitterfeed to broadcast news stories and links, almost 2,500 of which have been sent since The Alligator began using the service.

Personally, I think we should have gotten more mention of our amazing multimedia, but at least my Twitter obsession has been justified.

Online Student Journalism: Best Site Design

4. The Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida

The Alligator is an incredible example of the potential greatness of an online student newspaper. Its black and white design makes the fine journalism happening on the site look even better. Sections and stories are easily scannable and the site’s headlines are large enough to catch the eye. The Alligator also makes great use of its footer — a contrasting black to
the rest of the page — something that is rare in online student paper design.

That’s so totally what we were going for!

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Today’s Next Newsroom Unconference

The sessions for this morning:

Session 1
1. What are the keys to successfully operating a converged newsroom, especially for student media?
Facilitators: Brett Erickson, Kathy Stofer, Sharon Brooks
2. How can design of space promote innovation in the newsroom?
Facilitator: John Keefe
3. What productivity tools can transform the newsroom?
Facilitator: Christian Oliver
4. What is the role of social networking in the newsroom?
Facilitator: Kara Andrade

I want to go to all of them!

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Even a match is better than whistling in the dark

A lot of people tell me I’m really good at this Web stuff. Yea, I’m a geek. I love to program and play and diddle around with technology, especially if it can be made useful.

But I’ve really only had 2 years of this. I fell in love with journalism late in my sophomore year. I’m the managing editor for the Web site of a student-run paper and I’m making it all up as I go along.

OK, I spend hours every day scanning blogs, newspapers, Twitter and other Web sites learning as much as I can about this thing called online journalism. For me, there is no ivory.

But rarely do I get a chance to sit down with someone more experienced than I and discuss what I’m doing and how I should be doing it differently. (Maybe that’s a new direction to take this blog in?)

Last week, the Journalism Advisory Council sat down for lunch with us budding journos. It was a really cool experience.

I talked to one member about data potential for B2B magazines.

Another responded to my questions about the Web site by listing the things they do and then shoving me into a conversation with someone else.

I discussed eye-tracking studies and the difference between print and Web design, fairly eloquently for someone who can’t…well, I can design my way out of a paper bag, but it’s not one of my strengths.

Another member wanted to look at The Independent Florida Alligator’s Web site. My baby. No sooner had the site loaded than suggestions for improvements were being made.

Yes, we need to label our multimedia so that readers know what’s what. Yes, we should be publishing online as soon as we know something. Yes, I need to make Opinions, Sports and Avenue headlines as Web-friendly as the News heds have become. Yep, that event on the calendar shouldn’t be labeled TBA, it’s an all day event. Must fix the PHP.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

As soon as school is back in session, I’m going to find some unofficial guidance. The print managing editor and the editor go over the paper with one of the professors once a week. The Web site needs similar help. (Mindy, Dave, you up for this?) And I’m going to make sure the guidance continues, because one simple conversation can change so much.

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Ducks go quack, quack, cows go moo

I don’t remember the rest of the song. But that’s what was playing in my head while I read Steve Klein’s “Revenge of the ‘Web People.'” He’s writing about definitions and how “print people” and “Web people” need to be just “journalists.”

Klein argues against the concept that “Web people” are somehow inferior to “print people.”

Online journalists must have all the skills of print and broadcast journalists, as well as digital production skills. They need a far more diverse skill set than journalists who work in vertical disciplines. They must have horizontal skill sets that they then practice on an online platform.
So, any hint that an online journalist is less capable or less qualified than a print or broadcast journalist is just plain wrong and unfair. It really ruffles my feathers (do ducks have feathers?)!

I recently found out that my position at The Alligator was created after a series of editors tried to do away with the Web site completely (in the early to mid-1990s). It apparently diverted important resources from the “real paper.” Think where we’d be now if they had taken the Web seriously!

Back to my point. One of the things that pisses me off the most about the gulf between print and online is how one-sided it seems to be. I read the paper. In both mediums. I care about the paper. In both mediums. I can write and edit just as well as I can create a Google map, edit audio, or design a Web site. I just happen to work in the online department because of the linear structure of the newsroom.

Don’t pigeonhole me just because I can do some things you don’t understand. I enjoy all of the aspects of being a journalist – from finding and reporting a story to producing a Web package. Let me learn all that I can, I’ll bet you learn a few things too.