Megan Taylor

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

I’ve run pretty long in the last couple posts, and I’d like to cut this one shorter ’cause I’m sure you all are tired of this class already.

I know I am, cause this was only a month or so ago for me.

So, 2 more quickies:

It’s really not that hard to put in the correct characters when using words in other languages. America touts itself as the “melting pot,” but our major English newspapers ignore accent marks and other diacritics that CHANGE THE MEANINGS OF WORDS. I get pissed when people try to spell my name Meghan or Meagan, imagine how Aly Colón feels? I believe my exact comment in class was: “For a country that is supposed to be a ‘melting pot,’ I’m smelling New England clam chowder.”

We read multiple stories about newspapers laying off copy editors. And I keep thinking, what a horrible idea. Journalism was a fast-paced business to begin with. Online, it has to be even faster. But that speed cannot come at the price of accuracy. Faster news = more editors to handle the break-neck speed and information load. Right?

And that about covers it.

My favorite thing about this class was that our professor was Web-savvy enough to make us think about how to take articles online. We had 2 different class blogs, he encouraged us to use Google Docs and Spreadsheets to collaborate, and he didn’t mind when I jumped in with my crazy online ramblings that no one really gets.

Classes in Review Series
Preview
Advanced Editing pt 1
Advanced Editing pt 2

One of my favorite discussions was about topics that seem not to get the coverage they should.

Some things to think about from my abstract on this discussion:

In political coverage of candidates, journalists are likely to focus on the big dogs, ignoring the puppies. In doing this, the story becomes more about who wins than about the issues being addressed by the various candidates.

Journalists want to give readers what they want to read. That’s not our job though. Our job is to find the flowers and the dog turd, and tell the reader about all of it.

It all goes back to the same idea. No matter how uncomfortable you are with a topic, there’s always someone with a story to tell, someone who will explain to you the angles and issues at hand. Yes, with newsrooms cutting employees all over the country, that means more work for the individual reporters. But papers everywhere are trying to win their audiences back from the blogs and personal Web sites that address the issues that mainstream media can’t seem to grasp. If they are going to succeed, they’d better start hiring people back on, cause they need to cover all of those topics and more.

At least once a day I hear a student in the College of Journalism say somethings along the lines of “I’m going to be a journalist because I can’t do math.”

It makes me shudder, especially when I then read an article that required double-checking figures.

Math and I aren’t friends. I can do just about enough math to keep my margins and padding in CSS from going nuts, and manage my budget. But I know people who can do math and I’m never afraid to make a phone call to find out how to work something out.
And I have a slight advantage: I took 4 years of psychology, which included some intense statistics. (Stats ain’t math.) Check through your local newspaper, and you’ll notice that the majority of articles use just that – and often, badly.

So how do we solve the math problem? I made a cheat sheet of oft-forgotten formulas and rules. It currently exists only in hand-written format, so I can’t share it (writing out formulas on a keyboard is obnoxious). But I recommend that every j-student identify what’s necessary and their own weaknesses and make up something similar. Mine is taped to the wall next to my monitor for easy access.

Classes in Review Series
Preview
Advanced Editing pt 1

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

I decided not to take a class for this second half of the summer, so that I can concentrate on my three jobs and 465 personal projects (like redesigning this Web site).

While I am appreciating the extra free time, I miss class. So I thought this would be a good time to write about some of the classes I’ve taken and what I got out of them.

I’ll write about Editing, Advanced Online Media Production, Applied Fact Finding and more, including some non-journalism courses that I think contributed to where I am today.

In the meantime, students, journalists and teachers: What was your favorite class in college and why?

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Editing is not just proofreading

Last semester, I took Editing as part of my course load. It was less demanding than some of my other classes, and time limitations meant that I didn’t give the subject the attention it deserves. I tried to make up for that by taking Advanced Editing during this first half of the summer.

In the Editing class, the emphasis is on grammar, punctuation and word choice. The professor gave us articles to “fix.” Many of the errors were inconsistencies, fact errors, awkward wording and the like. We also did a little bit of page layout on dummy sheets, and cutting down AP wire stories. Less integral to the class, but more interesting, were topics of diversity, ageism, sexism, bias, ethics and taste.

These are the issues that we have discussed in the Advanced Editing class.

The advantage of this class is that it is very small, (at least in the summer, we had only 11 students) which allows for greater freedom of class discussion. The professor would hand out an article or case study and we would discuss the issues as a group. We talked about verifying sources, making up information, copying press releases, critical thinking and journalists and math.

Recognizing these issues and grasping the “big picture” behind a story is what being an editor is all about. But it’s also what being a reporter should be about.

Being an “online” kinda gal, I’d rather be out shooting video, making Flash presentations or putting together a database than managing people and editing articles. But the chance to discuss the issues that editors face everyday has been invaluable, and I think that my future work will be better because of it. These problems are not unique to print journalism. They need to be addressed in other forms of media as well.

Advanced Editing wasn’t a required course, it was a choice I made because every puzzle piece counts. If I could stay in school long enough to take courses in layout, photography and business, I would. Sadly, I’ve only got one year left. But until they kick me outta here, I’m going to scrape together as many puzzle pieces as I can. They will make me a better journalist, but even more importantly, I think they will make me a better person.

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Edit video on Linux

So after my post last week, I decided to look up some tutorials on editing video on Linux.

I found this one via Lifehacker.

Alex Roitman discusses capturing video with Kino, editing, tracking, transitions and effect with Cinelerra, and putting the finished product on a dvd with DVDStyler. This is by no means comprehensive, or even step-by-step, but it is a good introduction to the idea of editing video on a Linux box.

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Spring cliff notes, Summer plans

The obligatory end-of-semester post:

This semester has been the most fun and the most challenging so far. I spiced up my CSS skillz and learned enough Flash to be able to produce a good amount of what’s already being done as well as to push my myself further. I learned a lot about design, and am pursuing further studies on my own. I learned the value of a budget. I took driving lessons and will be getting my license and a car very soon. I made some very important connections to people in my department, people who can teach me and connect me with other VIPs. I had just enough free time to keep my head from exploding, but not so much that boredom got me into trouble.

I lined up two summer jobs that will add some experience to my resume so that I can get a great internship and then a great job. I will still be working at the Help Desk, but I also joined the new media department at the Independent Florida Alligator and will be updating and redesigning the Citizen Access Project Web site. I’m also taking an advanced editing course.

Having invested so much of myself in learning Flash and upgrading my coding abilities in the last few months, I’m eager to revisit storytelling and learn how to combine multimedia technology with extraordinary reporting. I don’t know if I’ll get that chance this summer, but I definitely will in the fall.

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Editing: Layout and Design for Print or Web

In my 7:25 a.m. editing class today (I can’t possibly convey how much I hate getting up at 6:30) we had to design a page of print newspaper on a dummy sheet, including photos, headlines and cutlines (captions).

Everything has to be a rectangle. Each story makes a box, and if it includes a photo, that box must include a photo. A surprising amount of thought, pencil-work and math goes into figuring out how big the headlines will be and how to structure the page.

But I’m an online media gal.

I do think it is important to see how print layout works, at least at a basic level. But what works in print does not necessarily work online, and I notice a lack in my classes of discussing how to lay out individual elements on a Web site.

Sure, we kind of know, from being online all the time. When I designed my blog, I thought,
“OK, well, there should be two or more columns, the main column should contain the blog posts, the others should have navigation and extra info.”

But why? Well, cause that’s what blogs look like.

I want a class that gives me a better answer than that. I’m admittedly not a graphic artist. That’s just not where my strengths lie. But I’d like to answer that “Why?” question with something other than “Because.”

I’ve seen too many news Web sites that were clearly designed without any understanding of how to place elements on a Web site. I get the feeling that these are being produced by people whose lives aren’t online; they’re in print. And to overcome that, the Webbie needs to explain how and why the print structure doesn’t work for the Web.

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Easy Breezy Blogging?

The Setup:

Much of what I’ve read since I started blogging (and thereby reading more online journalism blogs) says that journalists and students of journalism should blog. But according to a survey conducted by my editing teacher, out of 60 or so students (three sections) only about 5 blog.

The Problem:

My cash costs for this blog are almost nil, but the time cost is heavy. I try to post at least once a day, and that means coming up with a post idea (usually through my RSS feeds or classes), how to approach it, searching for references and relevant information, writing the post, coming up with a title (headlines are my weakness), and editing. I’m also constantly looking for ways to improve the site as a whole, via design or information.

The Solution?

Tumblr

A “Tumblelog” is The Flash compared to traditional blogging. Each post will have a different format based on what information you’re posting: a longer blog post, a photograph or graphic, a quotation, a link, a conversation, or a video. You don’t have to write commentary, there are no comments to check. Just post and go.

Even better, the Tumblr bookmarklet automatically detects what kind of site you’re on and will format the post accordingly. I’m assuming this auto-detect isn’t perfect, so you can change the type easily as well.

You can also set Tumblr up to directly publish posts from an RSS feed or your cellphone.

Maybe not:

Here’s the drawback: no comments = no community. If you follow the theory that journalism needs to get ueber-local, and journalists need to learn how to participate in their communities, maybe Tumblr isn’t the solution for the time-bound. Maybe you should just take a few extra seconds to post to a blog that does allow comments. Maybe the time investment is worth the possibility of mind-opening and engaging conversation; building your own community.

Something Different:

Perhaps the challenge lies in the format. How long is a story, anyway?

P.S. This post took me about two hours. I had help on the details on Tumblr from Lifehacker.