Megan Taylor

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

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Rebooting Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists

tntjThis month, TNTJ (a blog ring for young journalists around the world who debate a topic each month) is asking for help. Over the last few months, postings have dwindled, and it’s time to get people motivated again.

The problems that TNTJ faces are not unique. It is the problem we face every time we try to create a community. Look at all the Ning communities that have been created for journalists. How many are still active?

Last month’s topic was “Have you fallen out of love with blogging?” There were a couple of responses, most of which seemed to say “We like blogging, but Twitter is faster and easier.”

I totally sympathize, as my own blog has been neglected. But I don’t agree. Blogging is for long-form discussion, rather than the short bursts of lazy links we all get on Twitter. (Mind you, I’m not hating on Twitter, but it is hard to get ideas into 140 characters.)

Other topics have been:

  • What advice would you give to a student or recent graduate who has a summer/job internship?
  • Tips, knowledge and experience are essential — but how do you get them? Where do you look?
  • What are your summer (internship) plans? And, if you’re graduating, what are your job prospects?
  • What traditional skills are we ignoring, or letting slip? What’s the downside of new media?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 5 or 6 responses to a TNTJ question in a given month. Unfortunate, because I would love to get to know the other participants and hear what they are working on, learning and thinking. I haven’t responded every month myself, either because the topic was narrowed to students or I didn’t want to be repeating the same obvious answers.

I think that the topics have been lukewarm and mostly aimed at students. I don’t know how many students make up the TNTJ circle, but those narrow topics make it hard for graduates and out-of-work journalists like myself to contribute. Some of the topics have also been so narrow that the responses are kind of obvious and predictable.

TNTJ is also considering adding a podcast to the mix. Again, the success of this endeavor will rely entirely on the community. Will enough people be able to contribute? Will people have different opinions that will make these discussions interesting?

If the topic were interesting, I would listen. I would definitely participate in any discussion I thought I could contribute to.

What else can TNTJ do to stimulate discussion?

I think one of the major problems is the lack of mission. What is TNTJ trying to accomplish? Just gathering young journalists together isn’t enough of a mission statement. We need something to work toward.

What are we, as young journalists, trying to accomplish?

I believe that like most journalists at this time, (indeed, most people) we are trying to make places for ourselves in a changing world, while exerting what effort and influence we have to make that world better.

There are two major parts to this: seeing where we are, and seeing where we will go. That is what we should be discussing every month.

Some ideas for future topics:

* What new projects and experiments are you watching or working on?
* What technologies are emerging and how will they affect journalism?
* What are you learning?
* What are the elements of journalism that we should expand upon in order to do our jobs better?
* What business models might support journalism in the future?

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TNTJ May: You Don’t Have to Be a Journalist to be a Journalist

tntjThis is a response to May’s Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists May topic:

This is a blog ring for young journalists around the world. Each month, we will debate a set topic by posting here and on our own blogs.

This month, the journalism job market will be flooded with new, eager journalists. It’s a nervous time for all. Many graduates from last year haven’t yet settled into journalism, and yet now they have to contend with a couple more thousand rivals.

Tips, knowledge and experience are essential — but how do you get them? Where do you look?

New graduates: What are your worries? Your questions? Your confusions? Put them to the other journalists in this ring — we may just have the perfect answer.

Other young journalists: You were here once. What did you do? How did you land that first important job? What got the ball rolling?

My Story

A year ago I started the adventure they call life after college. I had the rest of my life (a.k.a. the next 6 months) planned out with confidence: a two-week photography class in Berlin, Germany was to be followed by an internship at The Miami Herald.

Things went swimmingly, until I realized that the end date of my internship was nearing and somehow I didn’t have anything else lined up. Job applications and interviews had gone nowhere, and I had done with being picky.

One thing led to another, and a fellow JWJ (Journalist Without a Job) and I decided that New York City would be the perfect place for two multi-talented news addicts to find work. You can read about that adventure in “Sink, Florida, Sink.”

Here I am, nine months in New York. I’ve had two non-news internships, both terminated early due to the economic crisis. I started freelancing a few months ago, taking on any job I thought I could do: web design and development, video production, news writing.

Somehow, I’ve managed to keep my head above water.

Dave Lee recently wrote, in “J-students must stick around and clear up the mess

Just spend your day being a journalist. Get shifts, even if it’s one day a week. Apply for anything that’s remotely near to a newsroom. Work on the reception if you have to.
You need to make sure you’re in the industry when it’s back on the way up.

This is the motivation behind almost everything I’ve done since I moved to New York.

After cold-calling and e-mailing every publisher in the city failed to produce a bill-paying income, I took two unrelated internships and spent all my free time wriggling into every gap I could find.

I found the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative through some searches on local news papers. I contacted the program leaders asking if I could help, in any way, shape or form. They asked me to help them with a website, which led to talking to students about online journalism, which led to freelancing for the Norwood News. Word is, I might also be asked to teach the newsroom some web skills.

PBS MediaShift blog host Mark Glaser asked me to write a series on innovative journalism projects. I can’t even count how many new contacts I made while researching and interviewing journalists all over the country. And while it hasn’t directly led to any new gigs yet, I follow every one of those people on Facebook and Twitter. They are a valuable addition to my network.

I’m barely keeping my toes immersed in the dwindling pool that is journalism. But I take every opportunity to mention to everyone I meet: I want to do journalism.

But you don’t really care about my story. You just want to know how to keep your own head up.

The Takeaway

Meet everyone you can. Go to every conference, search for every possible resource that could help you.

Read/watch these interviews, collected by David Cohn: Who I’ve Learned From – 107 Interviews.

Read these articles collected by Tracy Boyne: 85 Resources to Pass the Time During Your Next Furlough.

Do 18 Things For Journalism Students To Do With Their Summer.

Getting started is hard. How do you start pitching stories? How do you meet editors who can help you? How do you find out about opportunities?

Stay plugged in. Follow every journalist on Twitter and Facebook, pay attention to what they say. Follow the news, and just start e-mailing story ideas to editors. It’s hard, and it’s scary, but eventually it pays off.

Find a way to pay the bills, and then find a way to stay involved.

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MediaShift Innovation Spotlight: ChangeTracker, plus hiatus

mediashift_spotlightThis week I wrote my last Spotlight article for a while. Hopefully I’ll get to start them up again sometime down the road, but for now, sayonara.

My last Spotlight is ProPublica’s ChangeTracker, created by new intern Brian Boyer.

ChangeTracker is a project at ProPublica that watches three government websites — Whitehouse.gov, Recovery.gov and Financialstability.gov — for edits, deletions or changes to existing content. Through an RSS feed, Twitter account or daily email digest, ChangeTracker will inform you when a page changes on these sites, and show you what’s been added or removed.

ChangeTracker is yet another example of a trend I’ve noticed in newer journalism projects. Rather than building a single thing, some journalists are building tools that can be used over and over, in different ways, to produce information and tell stories.

It’s an important concept, given the restrictions and limited resources available to journalists whose publications are struggling. I hope to see a lot more work like this.

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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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Journalism discussions: Moving right along

Over at Mindy McAdams’ Teaching Online Journalism, a list is being compiled of the most annoying journalism discussions.

So far (from the post on Alexandre Gamela’s series):

1. Is Twitter Journalism?
2. Death of the Blogosphere
3. Citizen Journalism
4. Bloggers vs. Journalists
5. The Death of Newspapers

My additions (in the comments):

6. Paywalls
7. It’s Google’s Fault
8. Linking
9. Comments

Others (in the comments):

7.5. Google should pay restitution for driving traffic to my news site

10. “X is not journalism!” and “Journalism is not Y!”

I think these conversations pop up every few months, though I haven’t kept track of who is having them. Is it the same people over and over? Or, do different people encounter the same questions as the printies move online? Can we build an F.A.Q. for newbies, listing the different points to each argument?

Having the same conversation over and over again does not progress make. We need to move beyond these questions and find new ones.

Some new questions:

How can we support journalism? Do organizations need to turn non-profit? Or get their work funded by the community? What online advertising models are being used and are they effective? How can news organizations collaborate?

Got more discussions you hate? More questions that need answers? Leave them in the comments!

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Monthly Multimedia Contest

Today I found out that the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) holds a monthly multimedia contest (and has since 2006).

Over the last year, multimedia storytelling at newspapers has dramatically increased. Software programs like SoundSlides and Audacity have helped simplify the production of audio slideshows for online. Web-based video journalism is also gaining momentum. Many photojournalists are being asked (or told) to add video to their storytelling arsenals. In the midst of all this change, it became clear to many that a contest was needed to showcase this new work being produced by NPPA members. More importantly, I believe this multimedia contest will become a great learning tool for our members. Being able to see and judge everyone else’s entries will hopefully spur innovation and inspiration.

The contest is only for NPPA members, a tradition of industry associations that I’m getting really tired of. I know you want to recruit members and you need people to pay dues, but in the tradition of free web tools, I’ll bet you make more friends by providing services first.

Luckily, you don’t ahve to be a member to see the list of winners. There were a lot of projects that I haven’t seen, which makes this a good resources for rounding up examples. I usually keep track of multimedia projects via Multimedia Shooter and Interactive Narratives, among other sites.

I was very surprised to see that Zach Wise’s Thirst in the Mojave got second place for its category. It’s definitely one of the best examples of multimedia storytelling I’ve seen recently.

Go check out January’s winners, and if you’re a NPPA member, don’t forget to submit your projects for February.

Hat tip to Innovative Interactivity for writing about the contest.

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Journalism That Matters

Poynter is hosting another conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Journalism That Matters: Adapting Journalism to the New News Ecology

The conference will take place March 1 – 4, 2009.

The New News Ecology means new jobs, new tools, new relationships, new
businesses.

But journalism’s very survival — at least its values and functions — depends
on the ability of news organizations — and citizens — to adapt to a
dramatically evolving landscape.

Where, now, does the news industry end, and begin? As some newsrooms shrink and
morph, what — and where — are the new roles for journalists — and journalism —
in a broader civic sphere? How do we match journalism with the work of
non-profit organizations, government, civic and even advocacy groups . . .
without abandoning its core values and functions to democracy? Is it time for a
national journalism service corp?

Links:
Media Giraffe Project – Newsecology
Register
Slideshow

I really miss going to conferences. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to afford them again.

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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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News Web site user interfaces

Patrick Thornton wrote about user interfaces today, and how news Web sites are so loath to move away from an interface that mimicks the print product.

The last time I visited a news Web site, I was an employee of the paper working on code changes. I’m not counting clicking through to articles, but deliberately going to the home page of a site.

So Where Do I Get News?

I get my news from a couple of sources:

  • Google Reader, where I’m subscribed to over 400 blogs and news sites (including a personalized version of Google News), in addition to recieving shared content from all my friends
  • Twitter, where I follow over 400 users, mostly journalists
  • The AP Mobile News application on my phone. Great for the long commute to work.

Why Don’t I Go To News Sites?

Because they don’t give me what I want. Because I prefer serendipity.

I’m interested in a lot of things and a lot of places and a lot of people. There isn’t one place where I can get all the information I want. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to spend all day bouncing from site to site, hoping someone wrote or produced something I care about.

The other reason is this: A lot of people complain about the Internet being an echo chamber. To some degree, this sucks. I have to scroll through a bunch of work that is the same concept iterated over and over.

But, since I don’t visit news sites, I also don’t see the hierarchy that editors and readers have placed on certain stories. The echo chamber mitigates this problem for me, because I can gurantee that if something is important (or even important only to a certain group of people…people I chose to follow because I care about what’s important to them…) I’ll see it at least 5 times in Google Reader and another 20 on Twitter.

Is a different UI (user interface) really going to change my behavior? I’ll still have to visit multiple sites. The river of news (a la Facebook or Twitter) can get really annoying when I’m looking for something specific. For me, that only works seredipitously. And those cool mapping UI are just cluttery and hard to focus on. To be honest, if I’m looking for articles on a specific topic, I’ll just do a Google search.

Thornton is right, though: news Web sites need to stop emulating print. But they need to do it in a way that actually helps the users. We’ve learned certain behaviors when looking for content online. There are rules that we expect Web sites to follow, and when those are bent too much, we get frustrated. Not good for news sites.

So the question is, without breaking basic UI rules or being gimmicky, how should news sites be designed differently?

Edit: Check out the comments for a discussion between Aron Pilhofer and myself about user interface vs. user interaction.