Megan Taylor

web developer, hack-n-slasher, freelancer, information junkie, journalist, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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I caught the bug at a MediaStorm Workshop

Logo_MediaStormI should say, I re-caught the bug.

From September 19 – 25, I spent most of my time volunteering for MediaStorm’s Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshop.

I teamed up with Paolo Black, Melissa Pracht, Scott Lituchy and MediaStorm Producer Bob Sacha to tell a story about two young men who have made a career out of street entertainment. My role was to transcribe all the audio that was collected during shows and interviews.

I got to sit in on training sessions and lectures, and watch the MediaStorm team work their magic. And it was absolutely magical.

Talking the story over with the team showed me exactly how powerful a story like this can be and how we can learn from each other during its production. We all had our strengths and points of view, which contributed to a stronger piece than any of us could have produced individually.

I got home each day ranting about some new insight: interviewing techniques that get the subject to respond in complete sentences or the beauty of the extreme close-up. I looked at other MediaStorm projects, watching for the details we had talked about.

When I saw that my name was going in the credits for the project, and that I made a cameo in the Behind the Scenes production (at about 8:08) the grin on my face was big enough to fit an XL pizza.

There are parts of the experience I don’t want to remember. The ringing in my ears and the ache in my neck after transcribing for hours at a time. The frustration I felt as I watched the other members of the team working with high-end gear I can’t even dream of having. That doesn’t mean I won’t volunteer again. But next time, I’m taking a bottle of Aleve with me. And a point-and-shoot.

I started taking photos and shooting amateur videos long before I fell in love with journalism. In college, I took photography classes, including a study abroad trip to Berlin. I also did some independent study and in-class work with videography. Not to mention my work with both mediums at The Independent Florida Alligator, as I struggled to get reporters to get video and create audio slideshows along with their text articles.

So I caught the multimedia bug long ago. But once I lost access to the SLR and HD cameras, it got harder to be interested. I’d see a cool photo opportunity, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t afford to buy my own gear.

During this time, I turned to programming. I became more interested in data and applications and code than I had been with framing and sequences and lighting. Programming is a cheaper pursuit, and I’ve always been geeky enough to find the resources and teach myself.

Now, though, I catch myself walking around and seeing everything through a camera lens again. I wish I could afford even some low-end gear, because I know that otherwise, my interest will wane again. I will miss out on an aspect of storytelling every bit as important as programming or writing.

And although all the industry advice, including what I learned at MediaStorm, pushes specialization, I still want to know how to do it all.

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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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Speaking at the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative

Next week I will be speaking to the students of the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative about online journalism and the future of news.

The West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative is a weekly program offered to sophomores, juniors or seniors from Bronx high schools.

Students will learn the fundamentals of writing, reporting, and photojournalism through classroom instruction but, more importantly, through hands-on reporting in their own neighborhoods. We will take them on field trips – including the newsroom of a daily newspaper. They will learn about community activism and civic responsibility, how their neighborhoods work (or don’t), who has power, who doesn’t and why.

I’m nervous, because I’m really horrible at public speaking. But also because I have no idea what these kids know.

What’s the level of computer/Internet proficiency? Do they have access to computers at home? Do they read news online, have blogs, read blogs?

James Fergusson, the program coordinator and Editor of the Mount Hope Monitor, has told me that they have not discussed online journalism in class.

I got some great advice from Mindy McAdams, who told me not to assume that the kids are technologically ignorant. Even if they don’t have computers at home, the public libraries offer free access.

She also suggested that I show “Not Just a Number” and “The Mac” as examples of stories told by people about their own communities.

I can probably spend a few minutes at first figuring out what they know without looking like a total hack. The problem is how to adjust what I want to say to their level. After beating college reporters over the head with the “good news” for two semesters, I’m not sure how to condense the message to half an hour.

Any advice? What should these high-schoolers know about online journalism? What do I tell them about the future of news?

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MediaShift Innovation Spotlight: Represent

The MediaShift Innovation Spotlight looks in-depth at one great mash-up, database, mapping project or multimedia story that combines technology and journalism in useful ways. These projects can be at major newspaper or broadcast sites, or independent news sites or blogs.

This week, I covered New York Time’s Represent.

Represent is a look at the future of online journalism — focused, local and geographically relevant. It’s a different way to group and browse information based on an individual’s political districts.

Some have compared Represent to EveryBlock. It does fill a hole in EveryBlock’s coverage, taking the concept of block-by-block news and expanding it to fit the political realm of information. In fact, EveryBlock recently hooked up with The New York Times to display political news items for each block.

Check out Represent Helps New Yorkers Track Their Politicos to learn about how Andrei Scheinkman and Derek Willis did it.

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Resolution and Project Update

So I made some resolutions in January, and two months into the new year I guess it’s about time to see how I’ve been doing.

One of the things I wanted to work on was posting to my blog more often. I did well in January, with 24 posts. But not so much this month, with one week left and only seven posts. Clearly, I’m going to have to work on plan to find, think or do more interesting things to write about.

As for learning Javascript…I’ve written a few simple scripts for pop-up windows and the like at work, but I haven’t been making progress with my Lynda.com videos. I’m thinking about finding a text resource; the Lynda.com videos go really slowly for me.

I have been making some progress on PHP, mostly through more advanced manipulations of WordPress. Haven’t started any formal learning though. Should wait until I’m done with Javascript.

Although I have not been writing for BrightHub once a week, and I’ve been neglecting NewsVideographer as well, I have been writing a whole lot for my Innovation Spotlight series at MediaShift. I had so many projects for January and February that I wrote mini-spotlights on the off-weeks. I’m looking for new projects now though…

I said in my resolutions post that I would produce one multimedia or web development project each month. I haven’t really kept up with that, mostly because every time I turn around, I get in my own way. Right now I’m dealing with some PostgreSQL issues on my Mac. However, I did edit this video for Quinn and Co., Public Relations.

My last resolution was about getting involved in my community. I got in touch with the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative a few weeks ago and I will be helping them out with a new Web site and hopefully a guest lecture.

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MediaShift Innovation Spotlight: Map-Timeline Framework

mediashift_spotlight The MediaShift Innovation Spotlight looks in-depth at one great mash-up, database, mapping project or multimedia story that combines technology and journalism in useful ways. These projects can be at major newspaper or broadcast sites, or independent news sites or blogs. The main spotlights will run every other week, with mini-spotlights running on the off-weeks.

Another mini-Spotlight this week, featuring the Washington Post’s TimeSpace framework for media browsing.

TimeSpace, a Washington Post project, is a coverage mapping framework that displays content from multiple sources in space (via a map) and time (via a timeline). A display map, covering anything from a single city block to the world, is tagged to show viewers where news is being covered. Viewers can also view the news map as it appeared at different points over the preceding hours or days, giving them a picture of how the news events unfolded over time.

Check out Washington Post’s ‘Web Ninjas’ Build Map-Timeline Combo for how they did it and screenshots of the development.

Please let me know of any innovative projects you are working on or have seen lately. It doesn’t have to be from a major newspaper, it just has to be an innovative blend of journalism and technology. Please e-mail me at mtaylor[at]megantaylor[dot]org to submit a Spotlight recommendation.

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MediaShift Innovation Spotlight: BronxRhymes Tracks History of Hip-Hop

mediashift spotlight logo The MediaShift Innovation Spotlight looks in-depth at one great mash-up, database, mapping project or multimedia story that combines technology and journalism in useful ways. These projects can be at major newspaper or broadcast sites, or independent news sites or blogs. The main spotlights will run every other week, with mini-spotlights running on the off-weeks.

And this week we’re back to our normal column. I found a really great project produced by two individuals who did not set out to create journalism, but have done so nevertheless: BronxRhymes Uses Locality, Maps to Track History of Hip-Hop.

BronxRhymes is an attempt to raise awareness of the history of hip-hop in the Bronx, the northwestern borough of New York City where the musical style is thought to have originated. The history of hip-hop is illustrated through rhymes and plotted on an online map.

Inspired by music, history and technology, Masha Ioveva and Claudia Bernett created a way for the community to become engaged in its history, at a time when gentrification may be wiping it away.

Please let me know of any innovative projects you are working on or have seen lately. It doesn’t have to be from a major newspaper; it just has to be an innovative blend of journalism and technology. Please e-mail me at mtaylor[at]megantaylor[dot]org to submit a Spotlight recommendation.

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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 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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New Year’s Resolutions: Surviving in the Real World

Even though I graduated from college in May, I have trouble with the concept of not being in school. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I love school, and I miss all the things that come with it: being a part of a community, constantly learning new things, the surety of having something to work toward for the next few years.

Obviously, these are all part of living in the real world as well, but they seem harder and less tangible. I’ve lived in the Bronx for three months now, and I still only know the building super and the guy at the convenience store down the street. I’m so busy trying to make rent that I’m not learning the way I was in school. Sure, I learn new things on the job, but it’s very different. As for goals to work toward, instead of aiming for a degree I know I can get, I’m working toward a career in an industry that’s too busy trying to land on its feet to notice my efforts.

There’s no despair in this. Just readjustment. And resolutions.

I don’t need to be in school or have my dream job to learn new things or to be a journalist. I just have to carve out the time to do what needs doing.

So here’s a list of things I want to learn or do, regardless of jobs.

  1. Formally learn Javascript. I have some experience, but mostly in the vein of searching for the code that will do what I want, and implementing it. I’d like to be able to write a little on my own.
  2. Learn PHP. Like Javascript, I know quite a bit just from fiddling with websites (especially WordPress). But I’d like the formal knowledge that would allow me to manipulate databases without have to do a Google search every ten minutes.
  3. Write. I recently signed up at BrightHub, a science and technology site. I’d like to write at least one article a week. In addition, I want to try some pitching for publications. I think that my deficiency in published writing (due to a proficiency in multimedia and programming) has been detrimental to my career goals.
  4. Produce multimedia and web development projects. I want to keep my skills fresh, even if I’m not using them in day-to-day work. So each month I’ll come up some sort of project to work on, be it video, photography, data analysis…just something to keep me from getting rusty.
  5. Find a way to participate in my new community. I’ve been poking around community boards for the Bronx, and have also found some interesting groups in Manhattan. I want to get involved. There are also a few online communities that I’m a part of that I’d like to be more involved in.

I think these are good ways to be a journalist without the benefits of working for a publication. I’m still busting my butt to get a job in news, but until then, this is a good simulation.

What else can I do to be a journalist without the framework? What tips or advice can you give me for fulfilling these resolutions?