Megan Taylor

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

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Washington Post: TimeSpace

Awhile ago I realized that somehow I ended up on the Washington Post’s press release e-mail list. I’m not complaining, it’s a good way for me to find out about what they’re doing.

Today, the World section launched an app has has been around for a bit (I think they had a elections version) in beta. It’s called TimeSpace: World.

It’s pretty freakin’ cool, although sadly loading page page also loads a ginormous ad above the application. This is not quite what people mean when they talk about making web apps pay.

From the e-mail I got:

Using innovative technology, TimeSpace: World compiles all world news content from The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com, PostGlobal, Foreign Policy magazine, and partner sites including The Associated Press and Reuters onto one, customizable map.

Here’s how it works: coverage is collected into clusters around hot-spots on an interactive map. By clicking a cluster, users can view articles, blog posts, photos, videos, and even reporter twitter feeds (without leaving the page). A timeline below the map illustrates peaks in coverage and allows users to customize news searches to a specific day or hour.

They also made a widget for the app, and individual items have unique URLs for easy sharing. The content includes articles, blogs, photos and video.

I really like the idea, though unless you’re looking for something specific, it can get overwhelming to look at. The map is designed really well, with a neat sliding timeline function that also shows how much content there is for a specific time. Looks like there are some tracking possibilities here.

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Yet another “What I learned” post – Miami Herald Internship

Friday was the last day of my extended internship with The Miami Herald. I will miss working with such forward-thinking journalists, so many people who, whether they understand the intricacies of the digital world, really want to know how to make things work.

It’s amazing how close people can become in just a few short months. I feel like I have a family at the Herald: the people I worked with were kind, supportive and enthusiastic.

The most important thing I learned has nothing to do with skill set or journalism in particular. It was learning to work with people who believed in me from the start, who saw what I could do and let me do my job. It’s a heady feeling.

I also learned that, no matter where you are, there are always those silly bureaucratic things that get in the way of progress. I ran into these at The Alligator, but the Herald is no different. Another important lesson.

At The Miami Herald I was given the opportunities to work on projects on my own and in a team. I was able to help people tell stories online. I got to write a little bit. I was even given point on a huge project: building a new Flash package for a video project in AS3.

My internship is over, and I’m starting a new life in New York City. It’s exciting and scary, but with my experience and the people who believe in me, I know I can make it all come together.

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Learning ActionScript 3.0

When I set out to learn a new programming language, I usually take baby steps:

  • Read as much as possible about the language
  • Find the experts online and see what they’re saying/doing
  • Find and work through beginner tutorials
  • Come up with an idea to build something on my own

It usually takes a good 3 months or so before I get to that last step.

I didn’t get that luxury with AS3. A few weeks ago, I started watching the AS3 tutorials at Lynda.com. I had been assigned to rebuild The Miami Herald’s 60 Seconds project.
The current project is written in AS2. All the bits and pieces are internal. My mission was to rebuild it in AS3 and make it load information from an XML file so that it could be updated easily.

I started out with a series of classes: one to load the XML, one to parse it, one to define the thumbnails, etc. These classes were refined and rewritten until I got the thumbnails to load into the screen, much as they do in the original version.

It’s taken me 3 weeks to get that far. Google is my best friend. The next few steps:

  • fix interface so that when more videos are added, the screen will scroll left and right to show the additional videos
  • clicking on a thumbnail will go to large version of video with description etc, pulled from XML
  • add commenting, feedback and rating functionality

Right now, I can’t even begin to figure out how that’s going to get done. But it will, and I’ll learn a lot from the experience.

Check my Del.icio.us bookmarks for AS3 resources.

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New project: Borrowers Betrayed

A week ago, I was assigned the task of building the story package for a series on mortgage fraud. This had been in the works at The Miami Herald for quite some time, and the investigative team was finally ready.

When we found out that Congress was working on legislation relevant to the series, the package was fast-tracked. I had one week to build this thing.

It launched yesterday morning and if I do say so myself, it’s wicked cool. We have profiles and documentation for 4 major offenders, a flash graphic, a couple of static graphics, a slide show and a video, in addition to all the stories.

I even got a credit line in the footer!

I learned a lot about coding fast – quick and dirty sounds good, but it pays to take just a few extra minutes to do it right. It was also a good team experience. It’s so much harder to put things together when no one know what anyone else is doing, it almost justifies meetings! (Except that’s why we have instant messenger and Twitter.)

And guys, I forgive you the millions of revisions and changes. Everything turned out great.

Check out how they did the story.

So what’s next? I have a bunch of different projects on my plate, but I’ll give you a few hints: Video, Flash, ActionScript 3, XML, Twitter, database, Django, Python. Not another word! You can’t drag it out of me!

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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 the first

I gave my impressions from the first day or so of work, but a full (sort of) week has given me more time to get acquainted with my new job.

I’ve worked on several projects, thought none of them are quite ready to go live yet. I’ll link to them when they do. But so far the work has been pretty easy and well within my skills. I was surprised at how much Flash I remember, even though I haven’t touched the program in over a year.

I’m also working on a story for next week! I pitched this one myself, and while its nothing big, I’m happy to be writing. My greatest fear is being pigeonholed into the programming room.

I’m supposed to see about some database work in the next week or so, which will be something new to add to my arsenal. I know how databases work and how to work with them, but I’ve never actually built one.

On the side, I’m continuing to work through Django tutorials and plan on buying some books soon. I’m also in the market for a job after my internship is over.

I’ve got a couple of posts coming up that should be more stimulating, but I’ve been too busy to really organize my thoughts yet. Here’s hoping I can get one or two out next week.

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Next Newsroom: Wrap-up

I spent Thursday and Friday at the NextNewsroom Conference at Duke University. Thanks to Chris O’Brien for coordinating a great discussion and helping college students attend.

My interest in the conference stemmed from a previous interest in exploring the idea of a “virtual newsroom.” I wrote a little about this before.

Due to some initial crazyness at the Gainesville airport, I was late to the show, so here are some links documenting what I missed:

Greg Linch posted the highlights of Chris O’Brien’s opening words and collected some excellent quotes from Saf Fahim’s keynote speech. I’ve been following Greg on Twitter and his blog for a while now, and it was awesome to finally meet him. We even collaborated on live-streaming and recording sessions on the second day. More about that later.

Byran Murley used Cover It Live to keep up on speeches the first day and sessions the second. Cover It Live looks like a sweet live-blogging tool.

I did make it in time for Randy Covington’s speech on “New Roles in the New Newsroom.” I posted my notes earlier, but the quick takeaway was that the current structure of the newsroom is an impediment to convergence and integration between mediums. As examples of alternative structures he pointed to London’s Daily Telegraph and the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Next there was a panel discussion with Robertson Barret, Sharon Behl Brooks, Christian Oliver, Rusty Coats and Keith Hanadel as moderator. The discussion was a little disappointing, I felt like they kept drifting into different arguments instead of responding to the questions and comments posed via Twitter.

There’s video from all this at Ustream.tv.

On Friday, the second day, Greg and I joined forces (and equipment) to live-stream video from the sessions we attended. We had some technical difficulties, but it was really fun!

Session 1: We went to a discussion facilitated by Brett Erikson, Kathy Stofer and Sharon Brooks on operating a converged newsroom in the context of student media. Check out the video.

Session 2: How can the newsroom management structure be reorganized? Led by Bryan Murley. Takeaway: The Web editor needs to be high up on that ladder. I’m gonna point you to Greg again, as his notes are better than mine for this session.

Session 3: How to change from old news culture to new – led by John North, Knoxville News Sentinel. If we had come up with any answers to this problem, we could make a looot of money.

Session 4: Balancing work and class, learning and innovation in college media, led by Kathleen Sullivan. Ustream was crashing no matter what I did, so I switched to Yahoo Live. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save video, just broadcasts it. :(

The best thing about this conference was that after breaking out for different sessions we all gathered back together to share what had been discussed in each group. I’ve never done this at a conference and I thought it was a great way to walk out with as much to think about as possible.

So, what is the next newsroom going to be like? We don’t really know. There are so many aspects to consider, from roles and structure to physical space to technology. I’m still trying to remember names, Web sites, and ideas, gathering all my notes off of napkins, stray paper and boarding passes.

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SNDBoston: Storytelling in Print and Multimedia

Kelli Sullivan from the Los Angeles Times and Jenn Crandall of onBeing from the Washington Post.

Tell stories with graphics (example: show how trailer sways occur, graphics in print, flash online; break stories up into sections for layout)
– instead of scattered graphics, use sequentially to tell story
– figure out goals of editors and find creative ways to achieve them
– work closely with photo editors
– keep communication flowing: make sure you have the space you need, communicate with Web people as you learn things

Edit ruthlessly: edit for redundancy, keep it simple, let photos help pace the story
Build on the unique aspects of the story
Are graphics accessible, do they forward the story?
Develop multiple versions if there is time
Can breaking design rules help the project?

Solicit feedback!! But maintain independence/objectivity.

Jenn Crandall is freaked out by not being a designer, too! She’s a still photographer and videographer.
Oh yes! My favorite OnBeing character, Gio Escalante. Cute little kids for the win.
Focus on the characters: clean design, make it all about the person.
Lots of questions about this project: editing, equipment, traffic and response, transfer to print (there is currently not a print version).

I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the “these are my designs” trend. I think it depends on how the lecturer explains the design. Thinking about how to take some of this layout stuff online. Also, how to work more closely with various editors to anticipate online projects. onBeing is a perfect example that newspapers need to provide more than what we normally define as news.