Megan Taylor

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

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Scaring highschoolers about the future of journalism

On Wednesday evening I spoke to a group of five students who are taking part in the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative.

I’ve mentioned BYJI here before, mostly begging for help with my public speaking anxiety.

To my surprise, the whole thing went pretty well. The kids were Web-savvy enough to have uploaded a few videos to YouTube, and knew of Twitter, though none are using it yet.

I talked about the “newspaper crisis” caused by lack of innovation, an old business model and the problems with advertising and paywalls. (The kids’ immediate reaction to paywalls: “That won’t work.” Out of the mouths…) I went over the basics of online journalism: blogs, social networks, multimedia. I also talked about citizen journalism a little bit, in terms of how everyone can have a voice in their communities, which is a big problem in the Bronx. They really liked the concepts of “Not Just a Number,” which I showed them, along with the Las Vegas Sun Web site.

One student asked me how he could learn to code, and I directed him to the W3Schools site. Another asked about the future of news on e-readers like the Kindle. And of course the final question was “Where are we going?”

Thanks to Mindy McAdams, Craig Lee, and Tracy Boyer for their advice and inspiration. I’ve uploaded a powerpoint presentation to Slideshare which I used as a guide for my presentation, although it was really more a conversation than a speech.

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2 Journalism Projects About People

One of the many reasons I use Twitter: finding out about what projects journalists are developing and launching.

Yesterday I saw two such posts:

and

1. Tampa Bay Mug Shots, also known to some as “Facebook for underachievers” is a simple and fun glance at booking data in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. A carousel of mug shots is accompanied by some basic crime data and arrest records.

The information presented here as a public service is gathered from open county sheriff’s Web sites in the Tampa Bay area. The booking mug shots and related information are from arrest records in the order and at the time the data was collected. Those appearing here have not been convicted of the arrest charge and are presumed innocent. Do not rely on this site to determine any person’s actual criminal record.

2. The Miami Herald’s 60 Seconds is actually a relaunch/update of an older project, and I worked with Stephanie Rosenblatt on the Flash video player during my internship at The Herald. There are 10 new videos in this series about South Florida characters.

I know that in some circles, this type of journalism may be looked down upon. No evils or corruptions exposed, no event described, no protesters sprayed with pepper spray.

But I see it as an example of what journalism should do more of: exposing a community to itself. In both cases, the profiles are of people who live or work in these communities. Just because it’s also entertaining (’cause I firmly believe that the funniest thing about any person is their mugshot) doesn’t mean it’s not useful and informative. Stories are still being told.

index

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Yet another YouTube contest

This time, the winner goes to Africa with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof to write and produce video.

To enter*, upload a video response to Nick’s video, cleverly titled “Win a Trip with Nick,” by February 13th.

Check out Nick’s blog post for more information.

*Bummer, you have to be a student.

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YouTube Davos Contest Winner

Davos is one day away and Pablo Camacho, a student and independent writer from Bogotá, Colombia, will be attending as the winner of the YouTube Davos Contest.

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Actionscript and Javascript

A few weeks ago I started following a NY listserve for Flash. I’ve gathered a good number of snippets and learned a lot so far, although I’m still just a lurker. I’m hoping to make it to a meet-up soon.

In any case, an item came in about the relationship between Actionscript and Javascript, which really inspired me to finish up my formal education in Javascript so that I can jump head-first into heavier Actionscript.

The e-mail was about a series of lectures hosted on the Yahoo Developer Network by Douglas Crockford. Crockford is Yahoo’s Javascript Architect and author of “Javascript: The Good Parts.”

Because Actionscript 1 was based heavily on Javascript, and AS3 hasn’t changed that much, these lectures are applicable to both languages.

Mentioned specifically were “The Javascript Programming Language” and “Advanced Javascript.”

I haven’t worked my way through all the lectures yet (they are segmented into three and four parts) but what I’ve seen so far is really helping me wrap my head around some of the language theory.

I haven’t decided yet whether I like learning programming from a video. In some cases, it’s the best option for a clean, class-style experience. Otherwise I’d be reading a bunch of articles all over the place with no real connection, and missing out on important information in the process. But I’ve been watching Lynda.com videos on Javascript and it’s kind of tedious. I can read a lot faster, and I feel like I assimilate information better by reading.

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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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YouTube Journalism Contest

YouTube recently collaborated with the Pulitzer Center to produce Project: Report, a journalism contest focusing on important stories that don’t get the attention they deserve.

youtubeprojectreport

The winners have been announced, chosen through three rounds of competition, voting by the YouTube Community, and a panel of journalists from the Pulitzer Center.

The winner is Californian Arturo Perez, Jr., who reported on Camphill California, a community where adults with developmental disabilities live, learn and work together. He will receive $10,000 to travel and do a story in conjunction with the Pulitzer Center.

Check out the finalists, stories produced by the Pulitzer Center and production tips from Sony and Intel.

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NOT Another Resolution: Learn Design

I deliberately left something out of my resolutions post last week.

I left out my recent efforts to defeat my greatest weakness: Design.

Forget about when I started building Web sites (age 11), my relationship with design didn’t start until I got into online journalism.

And I learned that I couldn’t design my way out of a keg. ::shudder::

For a while I thought I could get away without being able to design visual elements. I could shoot photos and video, I could program in Flash and code a site from a .pdf. After all, there’s a reason for having designers, right?

I was wrong. I learned that sometimes, there just isn’t enough designer to go around, and you have to be able to make your own decisions. Things move faster and more smoothly if I don’t have to go ask the designer about an element.

Also, there are design elements to everything else I do online, from customizing a Twitter page to visualizing data. I was going to have to learn.

But how do you learn design?

I didn’t take a class, or sign up for a workshop. I just started reading design blogs. Following designers on Twitter. Paying attention to what I liked about certain Web sites and what made them ugly.

And I’ve made progress. I’m not good at details, but I can spec an overall design that doesn’t make people wish for blindness. I’d say I’ve reached paper bag status (as in can design my way out of), but anything more is beyond me.

I want to get better, because I hate not being able to do things. And because Web deisgn is important. I know I’ll never be a designer, but it would be nice to have a touch of the craft.

So if you’ve got resources, blogs, Web sites, or people that I should be paying attention to, please let me know in the comments.

Edit: I decided to add in a list of what I’m reading.

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Why I am the Future of Journalism

I submitted this for my entry to Publish2’s “I Am the Future of Journalism” Contest:

I have the will and the adaptability to be the future of journalism.

It’s not that I know how to write stories, use a video camera and write code.

Those are secondary qualities.

I am passionate about news. Passionate enough to learn new skills, to experiment with technology, to challenge myself to tell stories in multiple dimensions.

The power of news is change. It’s a cliche, but knowledge really is power, and journalists are the disseminators of information.

In journalism school they say “Show, don’t tell.” Somewhat ironically, print stories are limited in this capacity. Radio and television are better at showing.

But the mediums are merging. The buzzword is “convergence,” but what it means is that the media is catching up with technology.

A story is no longer a block of text. It is more than the sum of it’s parts; it includes video, links, databases, infographics and audio. A story is an experience. And when forced to acknowledge wrongness on such a level, how can people but work to change it?

Journalism makes an idealist out of me.

I’ve worked in a cramped college newsroom and a spacious metro daily. But the job was the same: What is the best way to make this information meaningful?

To that end, I’ve used Flash, Twitter, maps, video, podcasts. I’m learning more programming languages, exploring social media and experimenting with the possibilities introduced by the Internet.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist in the early 20th century, said “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” The more tools we have, the better our stories become, because there isn’t just one way to do it.

I’m going to need a ginormous toolbox.

I don’t dream of working in a smoke-filled newsroom, surrounded by press hats and old coffee. I dream of the day when the world is my newsroom. I’ll work from the streets or my living room, and the physical state of the newsroom will be a server.

I AM THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM CONTEST.  Rate my entry!

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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?