Megan Taylor

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

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Election Afterthoughts

Last night was one of most exciting of my life. I got to watch America do something special.

I got home around 6:30, right after the first polls closed. I stayed hooked to television and computer until just after President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was an amazing experience.

During past elections, information was sought largely from television news. This time, I paid more attention to a large selection of Web sites than to the obnoxious commentary of political analysts. Apparently, so did a lot of other people:

According to Akamai, which is the content delivery network for most major news sites including CNN (which had a record day on its own), NBC, Reuters, and the BBC, global visitors to news sites peaked last night at 11 PM with 8,572,042 visitors per minute.
That is double the normal traffic level, and 18 percent above the previous peak of 7.3 million visitors per minute achieved during the World Cup back in June, 2006. (The third biggest peak to news sites was last March during the first day of the U.S. college basketball playoffs when it hit 7 million visitors per minute).(TechCrunch)

Most of the links below aren’t to news sites, though. These are passionate and creative people who found different ways to reflect on what we all saw last night. A little bit of meta-coverage, if you will.

Mark Luckie put together a time-lapse video of the NYTimes home page from last night. It starts while voters are still at the polls and ends with Obama’s victory. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” was an inspired musical choice.

Mark Newman and his cartogram software showed how skewing the normal red/blue map according to population or electoral votes is a better graphical representation of how America voted.

Daily Kos collected headlines and newspaper front pages in the US and elsewhere. Excellent collection with some really creative designs.

My friend Matthew Gonzalez grabbed some screen shots from news Web sites’ home pages. I really love the NYTimes treatment.

Designer Robb Montgomery collects his best picks of front pages. I have to agree, the Chicago Sun-Times front is amazingly powerful. He also brings us “a video tour and spot critique of top U.S. media Web sites and their election graphics at the moment when Sen. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election.”

ReadWriteWeb put together a really cool slideshow of election coverage online, showing resources from Twitter to Ustream, news sites and more.

Mindy McAdams put together her own slideshow of voting maps and home pages.

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Florida journo living in NYC

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. My first reaction to being up north was “Holy crap, I can walk outside and not instantly have to take a shower!”

Two weeks after moving into our apartment, it finally feels like home. Took a while to get the couch, bookshelves, refrigerator, desk chair…we’re still waiting on the mailbox keys. These things take time.

There are a lot of new things to take in:

I’ve been doing a lot of job interviews in Lower Manhattan. We live in Kings Bridge Heights, which is almost as far north as you can get and still be in the City. So it takes me about 45 mins to get where I’m going. Then, since I’m already in the area, I spend some time getting lost, taking the wrong trains, window shopping and just taking in the local scenery. I’ve spent hours wandering around Broadway and Canal St. in the last few days.

Our first couple of days here I got really excited every time we had to walk up or down a hill. Gimme a break, we don’t have hills in Miami. (Unless you count Mt. Trashmore.) I’ve learned the truth about hills: walking uphill sucks.

There is also the delightful surprise!-this-is-a-deadend-actually-it’s-a-flight-of-stairs-in-the-middle-of-a-street phenomenon. A street will literally turn into several flights of stairs before turning back into a street. Wha?!

Straws. How come every bottle of Mountain Dew or Becks has to come with a straw? I don’t want a straw. The bottles are too tall for the straws. Since my beverage was sealed until I opened it, I’m really not THAT concerned about touching my mouth to the rim. Straws are just another thing I have to find a garbage can for, along the with the bag and the receipt.

The subway system itself is a magical world filled with the possibilities of getting lost. Really, really lost. Never mind that I’m not familiar with the city, stick me underground and the only directions I’m sure of are up and down. Emerging into the sunlit world once more, it’s only Google Maps Mobile that keeps me from spending even more time wandering aimlessly around.

New York is the dirtiest, meanest and simultaneously most wonderful place I’ve ever been.

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City of Memory

City of Memory

This is such a beautiful package.

“City of Memory is an online community map of personal stories and memories organized on a physical geographical map of New York City.”

People can add their own stories, including video, audio and photos.

The project is “Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Rockefeller Foundation.”

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IRE Conference – Day 2

This morning I met with my IRE mentor, Steve Doig, who is a CAR teacher at the University of Arizona. We talked about some of the work I’d done, people in the industry to learn from, and ways to stay on top of projects at different newspapers.

I love mentorship programs because I get a basically captive audience for my pro-online and data visualization ranting. I guess it’s also a networking shortcut.

I spent a frustrating hour and a half tracking down an internet connection so I could clear out the ::gasp:: 1000+ items that have accumulated in Google Reader after 3 days of neglect.

Then I went to a session called Cutting Edge Digital Journalism from Around the World.

The session was led by Rosental Alves, University of Texas; Sandra Crucianelli, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; and Fernando Rodriguez, Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism.

One of the things that surprised me was the idea that in Central/South America, CAR/investigative reporting/databases are viewed as “as a gringo thing.”

Rodriguez showed off a database he worked on of politicians in Brazil, called “25,000 politicians and their personal assets.” Politicians have to submit a certain amount of information in order to run for office, including a listing of assets. It took 2 years to track down all this information because the records were not organized and were available only in hard format. Eventually, the database could provide a view of who the politicians were.

The database was published online and stories were written for the newspaper (Folha) as well. Readers started to call in and report inconsistencies. Other newspapers started to use the database for their own stories.

Crucianelli presented a way to monitor government documents online in 4 different countries. (El Salvador, Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua) All 4 countries had recently changed their access laws for public information.

She found that Panama had the best online access to government documents. El Salvador had the worst access.

At noon, Matt Waite presented PolitiFact. Sexy, sexy Politifact. He gave a tour of all the features of the site as well as showing us a little of the back-end: the Django admin setup.

I followed Matt and Aron to a session with Knight grant winner David Cohn, talking about Spot.Us.

Spot.Us is supposed to be an answer to the question: How will we fund reporting that keeps communities informed?

The answer is based on the premise of citizen journalism. Writing is not the only means of participation.

On Spot.Us, anyone can create a story idea. Reporters can pitch stories based on contributed ideas to their communities. People in the community commit money for pitches. Then the reporters cover the stories. Some of the money goes to pay editors. The stories can be republished for free or published exclusively if the original donor is refunded.

And that’s it for me today. I’ll be in for some afternoon sessions tomorrow.

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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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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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Falling in love with blogging again

Zac Echola reminded me yesterday what this blog is about and why I started it.

  • 1. A networking blog should be a living document of your professional self. You should stay focused on topics that matter to people who may hire you. You should start reading blogs from people in your field.
  • 2. When someone makes you think, you should think out loud on your site. Have a conversation with others. Email people questions. Chat with them on twitter. Get to know people. Working a blog isn’t much different than working a room at a conference. Stay focused.
  • 3. Show off your work. When you do something good, show it off. Don’t be bashful.
  • 4. SEO the crap out of yourself.
  • 5. Seize every opportunity you can.
  • 6. Always remember that there’s a real human being on the other side of the machine.

I’ve been really bad at updating lately, and I’m going to work hard to fix that, starting with a bunch of updates on what I’ve been doing lately. I think short posts are preferred, so I’ll split things up. Keep an eye out for stuff on Twitter, Google Maps, Django and more.

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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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Ducks go quack, quack, cows go moo

I don’t remember the rest of the song. But that’s what was playing in my head while I read Steve Klein’s “Revenge of the ‘Web People.'” He’s writing about definitions and how “print people” and “Web people” need to be just “journalists.”

Klein argues against the concept that “Web people” are somehow inferior to “print people.”

Online journalists must have all the skills of print and broadcast journalists, as well as digital production skills. They need a far more diverse skill set than journalists who work in vertical disciplines. They must have horizontal skill sets that they then practice on an online platform.
So, any hint that an online journalist is less capable or less qualified than a print or broadcast journalist is just plain wrong and unfair. It really ruffles my feathers (do ducks have feathers?)!

I recently found out that my position at The Alligator was created after a series of editors tried to do away with the Web site completely (in the early to mid-1990s). It apparently diverted important resources from the “real paper.” Think where we’d be now if they had taken the Web seriously!

Back to my point. One of the things that pisses me off the most about the gulf between print and online is how one-sided it seems to be. I read the paper. In both mediums. I care about the paper. In both mediums. I can write and edit just as well as I can create a Google map, edit audio, or design a Web site. I just happen to work in the online department because of the linear structure of the newsroom.

Don’t pigeonhole me just because I can do some things you don’t understand. I enjoy all of the aspects of being a journalist – from finding and reporting a story to producing a Web package. Let me learn all that I can, I’ll bet you learn a few things too.

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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.