Megan Taylor

web developer, hack-n-slasher, freelancer, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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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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Twitter update

Well, my obsession with Twitter has been pretty well satisfied by now.

I’ve gotten the feed printed onto my desktop with Geektool, set up keyword tracking, followed a bunch of super cool journalism people, then meticulously tracked down every Twitter user in Gainesville and followed them as well. (Now that I’m leaving, should I un-follow them?) My tweets automagically go through to my Facebook status and I even set up my calendar and to do list on Twitter.

I use a combination of Twhirl, Google Talk and mobile updates to keep track of everything. And no, I’m not paying attention ALL the time.

I made a Twitter account for The Independent Florida Alligator and then made a page on the Web site where the “tweets” of those that follow the newspaper’s account will show up. The Alligator’s Twitter feed also includes weather conditions and updates from the University Police Department’s crime log (scraped with Dapper).

My initial obsession has been tempered by productivity problems and information overload. But I won’t stop using it. I’ll just have to be a little more judicious.

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Google Maps update

For the last month or so I’ve been taking a really in-depth look at the Google Maps API. Partly out of my own curiosity, and partly as an individual project for the online capstone course at UF.

I’ve learned some really cool things along the way. How to work with information flowing between a viewer and the server, for instance. I’ve also learned more about javascript and PHP.

One bad thing though: Google Maps tend to fail when you need to plot more than 200 locations. Ken Schwencke and I found this out when we tried to plot over 800 Gainesville restaurants with their inspection reports from an XML file. We’re still looking for a solution. (We’ve basically parsed a CSV file with python and gotten it to feed into an XML file which is being fed into the map…now I’m hungry.)

We wanted to integrate restaurant reviews using the Yelp API, but the requests are restricted to only 20 businesses, so we’re working on our own review backend.

For my class project, I’m building a map with multiple layers, like crime, alcohol licenses, and restaurant inspections, that can be toggled to show only the information a viewer wants to see. Or all of it at once. It’ll be on a small scale, just as a proof of concept. But still pretty cool.

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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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Project updates

I know I haven’t been posting much lately, but I’ve been completely swamped.

Thanks to Matt Waite’s brilliance and patience, I got Django installed on my MacBook. I haven’t actually done much more than order the book and start reading through the tutorial and documentation, but I’m really excited to start learning. Right now I’m stuck trying to get MySQL onto the laptop. I’m Terminal-retarded, so this is getting frustrating. Once I get that up and running, I’ll be diving into a Django-driven class project.

My independent study project has advanced to the data cleaning stage. I’m still gathering the last bits in, but I started cleaning and organizing and staring blankly at numbers.

Life at The Alligator isn’t particularly impressive lately. We’re still mostly fixing. I slapped this little map of upcoming Gainesville shows together last week. Then I had to spend 3 hours trying to get it to work with the publishing system. It’s still kind of broken. But on the bright side, Ken Schwencke, a journalism student who is several levels beyond my programming abilities, has joined my staff.

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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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Independent Study: Story Idea

My first assignment for my CAR independent study was to get some data from the Alachua County Health Department.

Professor Armstrong charged me with getting all current salaries, as of Jan. 1, 2008 for nurse practitioners and physician assistants working in the Alachua County Health Department, both full and part time. It took a couple of tries to get someone on the line. Then they asked me to send an e-mail. But in 3 business days, I had the data. Much easier than I thought.

I know all data requests won’t be so easy, but it’s good practice in asking for it. The experience was similar to what I did to get a gas prices map on The Independent Florida Alligator’s Web site: Figure out who has it, find a contact number or e-mail address, and ask.

My next assignment was to decide on a story I wanted to do the data analysis for. I had a lot of trouble with this, because I had to choose something that was timely, accessible, etc.

After going through a bunch of ideas

  • location trends for car accidents in the gainesville area. are holidays/game days a factor?
  • something about uf sustainability. the website was basically a bunch of press releases, but i bet if i went and asked they could dig me up some data.
  • I looked at http://earmarkwatch.org/ and found that all the earmarks for the state of Florida are for defense bills. UF and some other Florida universities were getting some cash too.
  • go back to crime or poverty :( i’m trying to avoid these because they seem too obvious/easy.

I finally hit on something:
Given that Crist just put out the budget for public universities and UF is apparently not getting any help, I think that would be a good direction to take. I can compare funding for public universities in Florida and maybe other states, compare growth in attendance, that sort of thing. Look at how funding for UF has changed now that we have fewer people in legislature and other schools are building strength. (UCF, SFU) Is UF still the “flagship” university? I’ll also be looking at tuition.

So the next step is to figure out how far back to look. I’ll start at 10 years, hit up Lexis and see what I can dig up.

I’m much more confident now that the topic is locked down.

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An introduction to RSS

RSS has got to be one of my favorite reporting tools. Although my writing lately is limited to this blog and News Videographer, I still have to find something to write about and keep current in my field. That means communicating with a lot of people.

But I don’t have time to talk to all those people. Many of them have Web sites and blogs, and those who don’t get written about online by the former. It’s much easier and faster for all this information to be compiled in one place for my viewing pleasure.

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. It is most often characterized by the orange and white icon you may see on many Web sites. (See the icon at the top of the right column?) An RSS feed basically delivers new content from a chosen site to a feed reader of your choice.

A feed reader, also known as a news aggregator, can be compared to your e-mail inbox. Instead of e-mail addressed to you, it receives the updates you have subscribed to. Some readers let you interact and organize your subscriptions in many different ways.

So start receiving these handy-dandy updates, you first need a feed reader. My favorite is Google Reader, but other options are available such as Bloglines and NewsGator. You can also choose, like e-mail, to use a Web-based or desktop feed reader. You can peruse these options by simply doing a search for feed readers.

Having chosen your feed reader, start subscribing! In most cases, the orange and white RSS icon will appear somewhere on a Web site. Some browsers will also show the icon in the address bar if there is a feed for that site. Some sites do not have feeds.

I’ve subscribed to a slew of different sites, from news to blogs to entertainment and more. If your city government has a Web site, chances are it has some sort of feed (even Gainesville has one for municipal minutes). State and federal governments are more likely to provide more information. And don’t discount blogs! Even though you will have to double-check the information, blogs are an amazing resource, and with a little hunting you can find the good ones.

Now, all you have to do is remember to check the feed reader every day.

This post was also published at Wired Journalists.

Last night, while uploading the new student edition articles to the Alligator Web site, Brett Roegiers and I tossed together a Google map of all the locations mentioned in various articles, complete with driving directions. Ahhh, last minute media.

To create the map, I used the method described in Matt Waite’s post, “Why (some) journalists should learn (some) code.”

The most aggravating part was getting the latitude and longitude for each address, especially for places on campus that don’t really have addresses. I used a combination of GeoCoder and this Lat/Long Bookmarklet for Google Maps.

There has got to be a better way to grab lat/long. I know that it is possible to generate the locations through a Google Spreadsheet, and even generate the entire map this way, as well.

Does anyone know any other tricks?

Edit: Matt can’t seem to keep his site up and running, so you’ll have to search archives.org for his post.

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Hobnobbery

In every one of my classes, professors have asked how many students read or write blogs. I am always a little shocked by how few have explored the potential of blogs.

Few of my friends share my enthusiasm for multimedia journalism blogs. Those that do tend to share my habit of speaking of these journalist/bloggers as if I’ve meet them. It’s a habit that those outside of the blogosphere find strange.

On Tuesday, I got to meet a few of my heroes. After almost 12 hours of observing and chatting with Joe Weiss, Regina McCombs, and Chuck Fadely, I found that the gods are mortal.

They’re not super-geniuses looking down on the rest of j-land. They’re people who have been in the business long enough to understand what journalism needs and how to get it. We discussed the ways people get into journalism, the development of Soundslides, differences of taste in online video and gossiped about the goings-on at various newspapers.

Thank you all for hangin’ out. It’s great to put a face and a voice to the people I admire.

Edit: What I get for writing posts on the go: It was Monday, not Tuesday.