Megan Taylor

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

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Small community newspapers and the future of journalism

bronx-news-network-1

I live in the West Bronx area of New York City. The neighborhoods in this area are diverse, the history is complicated, and the stigma of the Bronx is strong.

There is no metro paper that covers these neighborhoods. The New York Times, Daily News, New York Post and Gothamist occasionally cover political and crime issues in the area, but no major paper is giving this group of communities a voice.

Instead, residents are given a voice in the small local papers that are part of the Bronx News Network. Rather than focusing on breaking news items and fighting over scoops, these papers work together. The Bronx News Network is a nonprofit organization founded by Mosholu Preservation Corporation and the Norwood News.

The Bronx News Network includes the Tremont Tribune, the Norwood News (for which I freelance), the Mott Haven Herald, the Mount Hope Monitor, the Hunts Point Express and the Highbridge Horizon.

None of these papers are dailies. They publish anywhere from every two weeks to once a month. But they still provide an important source of news and opinion to an under-served community. They have unimpressive websites and tiny offices. And they are surviving in a time when the news industry is in trouble. They will continue to survive, and not just because they are the only ones providing this service to this area.

Small community newspapers will be able to provide targeted advertising, the bane of the major metro.

They can react quickly to the changes in technology and society.

They live in the areas they write about.

I don’t want to say that tiny papers are the future of journalism, because the future for journalism will not be any one thing. The future will depend on each community, and how the community interacts with the producers of journalism.

I am saying that this model seems to be working really well for this particular community. And it’s important to look at what is working where, and see what can be applied in other areas.

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Newspapers vs. Public Relations: FIGHT!

I had a meeting recently with a PR company that I do occasional Web work for. They asked me to remove some content from their site, because they were approached by a lawyer representing several newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post were named).

Apparently, these papers want PR companies to remove media placements from their Web sites in cases where the company had simply uploaded a PDF of the print product.

OK, yea, that’s totally not fair use. But why do you think they started doing that in the first place, rather than simply link to articles?

Oh yea…those damned paywalls.

PR companies have been doing this for years. Why do newspapers suddenly care?

Is it that more PR companies are getting their sites optimized for search engines?

Is it the $0.10 in ad revenue that the papers might be losing because someone looks at a PDF instead of going to the newspaper’s Web site?

©

 

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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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First Look at a (new) News Interface

Over the weekend I discovered The New York TimesFirst Look” blog.

I’d never seen this before, although the blog has been around since 2006, when the Times was experimenting with “My Times.”

How did I find it now?

Because the Times is testing a browsing prototype, “the article skimmer.”

Article Skimmer by The New York Times

Article Skimmer by The New York Times

While “First Look” wants to compare the article skimmer to “Reading the Sunday Times, spreading out the paper on a table while eating brunch,” I simply find it an interesting — Ad-free — interface.

In fact, if Dave Winer hadn’t put together this alternative for free, I might have found myself willing to pay up to $25 a year for that slick interface. Here’s Winer’s podcast on what he would pay for from the Times.

Of course, now I can just take Winer’s river of news and spice it up with some CSS.

Don’t worry, Rex Hammock will pay for it.

Happy, Pat?

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Yet another YouTube contest

This time, the winner goes to Africa with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof to write and produce video.

To enter*, upload a video response to Nick’s video, cleverly titled “Win a Trip with Nick,” by February 13th.

Check out Nick’s blog post for more information.

*Bummer, you have to be a student.

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Mobile News: Problems, Examples, & Real World Use

(Note: I wrote this a few months ago and forgot about it. I found it while cleaning off my hard drive today. Oops!)

I got a Blackberry Pearl about a year ago, and while I have access to Google Reader and Twitter, (my main sources of news) I just haven’t gotten out of the habit of reading off the larger screen of my laptop.

Many media outlets are pursuing the possibilities of mobile news, having learned from their mistake with the Internet. As mobile phones get more advanced and more people use them, there is an opportunity to capture an audience.

Problems

One issue to address when setting out to get news on mobile phones is the variation in technologies used by different phones. Many phones can play video or view websites. All phones can receive text messages, but that can be costly to the user.

Viewing websites on a non-iPhone is a ghastly business. Tiny screens, poor rendering of CSS, graphic-heavy or Flash-based websites, they all make information harder to get at. One solution here is to create a mobile stylesheet that the phone browser will detect.

Another problem is content. Just as people don’t read off a computer screen the way they read a print product, no one wants to read a lengthy feature article on a 2-inch screen.

What kind of content might one want to see on a phone?

Weather and traffic alerts, events, and big, huge, breaking news. Seriously, the feature article can wait till I get home. But if a criminal is running around my neighborhood with a gun, I’d like to know, ASAP.

What about multimedia? I don’t see myself using my phone to go through a complex multimedia package. A video or slideshow, maybe, if I’m really interested. But phones are about “right now” communication. That should be reflected in how news companies approach them.

It may be that the only real solution for phones is better phone software. It doesn’t have to be iPhone quality, but the ability to add “news” to your basic menu would change everything. You could do any kind of feed you want then, while not having to go three steps in just to open a browser.

Examples

The Associated Press launched the Mobile News Network. The view on a phone is pretty nice, with a top news home screen, categorized story feeds (you can pick the general topics, and a “saved” category for custom searches). You can set preferences for location and the types of news you want to see. They also do video pretty well, providing various formats. They have applications for Blackberry/iPhone/iPod Touch users.

CNN’s mobile offerings include a Java application, SMS alerts, live TV (for certain providers), and downloadable videos.


The BBC actually explains
how they set up several different versions of their mobile site and let your browser choose the best one.

The New York Times offers a mobile site where you can read the NYT blogs, see most e-mailed articles, get alerts for topics or keywords, and browse real estate listings, stocks and weather forecasts. You can also choose to have news sent to your phone via text message. Customers of certain providers can also get access to crossword puzzles.

Fox News provides live video, streaming video clips, the requisite mobile site, and text alerts. Something a little different: they also offer an audio version of FNC, for a monthly fee.

Real World Use

The people most likely to have a compulsion to check the news every few hours, no matter where they are, are journalists. So I rounded up a few and asked about their mobile news habits.

Greg Linch sent me an e-mail after I asked for responses on Twitter.

I check Gmail on my smart phone (an AT&T Tilt), where I might have a New York Times, Washington Post or Miami Herald breaking news e-mail. After checking Gmail, I look at Twitter for other news and any interesting conversations. I also get Miami Herald breaking news text alerts, which include big national and local news.

If I’m away from the computer for an extended period of time — or if I’m bored somewhere — I’ll check Google Reader on my phone. If I just want a quick peek at the latest headlines, I’ll go to the mobile version of a site such as CNN, NYT or the Herald.

Kyle Mitchell is a music writer. He carries an iPod Touch. In an IM conversation, Kyle told me about his news habits.

NYT is one that keeps going down all the time. AP Mobile News is absolutely fantastic: runs fast as hell and top news never contains any bullshit like celebrity news. I check that a few times a day. Google News has a similar setup, but it’s much more clunky.

Brett Roegiers associate producer at CNN.com said

On my phone, I consume the news via Google Reader and Twitter.

Brett volunteered some advice to media outlets:

I’ll tell you what news organizations should pay attention to: location-based web apps. I click ‘restaurants’ or ‘bars’ and it shows me what’s in my area without me having to input where I am. I guess I’d say try to take advantage of the platform in some way and not just show the latest headlines.


Lyndsey Lewis
has an older Nokia, but checks the news on her iPod Touch.

I don’t use my phone, because I have a shitty Nokia phone and it’s hard to read stuff on it. But, I also own an iPod Touch, which I bring with me everywhere and use for news. I have the New York Times app on it and use that almost every day.

So what applications are you using to get the news on your phone? What do you think media outlets should be doing to get people’s attention? What can manufacturers do to make phones easier to use in this context?

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We Are the Media, This Is the Media

I read BuzzMachine, a blog by Jeff Jarvis, on a regular basis, and yesterday I also happened to listen to On the Media.

Jarvis was interviewed for On the Media regarding his decision that the word media, so long the bane of grammar students, is not plural but singular.

The folks at On the Media are sticking with tradition.

It occurred to me today that there are so many angles to the word media, it might as well be both. I have a background in linguistics, so I might approach this a little differently.

Let’s start with the definition of media:

1. a plural of medium

2. (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely

3. pertaining to or concerned with such means

OK, so if media are tools, and the tools are becoming a Leatherman Charge TTi (19 tools in one!), then it becomes singular.

We also use the word media to refer to the people holding the tools collectively: CNN, The New York Times, NPR. Singular or plural?

Jarvis would say it’s still singular. But I don’t think the lines have been erased that far yet, if they ever are. Even though everyone can participate online, not everyone does to the same degree. There are still the giants.

Companies now producing across various platforms. Across media. Plural.

Jarvis argues:

Today, still photographers shoot video with a still camera. Print reporters take pictures and make slide shows and shoot video. TV people write text. Magazine people make podcasts.

Yea, but those are still separate media. He gets closer when trying to qualify Twitter:

What is Twitter? A medium? A conversation? Both? Yes. So how does one
separate one medium from another? It’s impossible, I came to see.

So there are some platforms that are an indistinguishable mixture of media. Singular.

But you can still have each medium on it’s own. And sometimes they’re more powerful that way, depending on the subject. Plural.

Now I’m confusing myself.

I think it can be used both ways. And we’ll just have to figure out from context the intended meaning.

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I didn’t take a copy of the fake NY Times

As I got off the train at Penn Station Tuesday morning, still drowsy from the 1 hour commute, I heard “Free copies of the NY Times!” coming loudly from somewhere behind my left ear. I kept walking.

Two blocks later I caught a glimpse of the front page of the paper carried by the large, dark trenchcoat in front of me. Wait a second!

What I saw was this:

Naturally, as soon as I got to the office I did some Google searches. It took another 15 minutes for the first blog posts to hit.

Apparently a group of pranksters called The Yes Men recruited volunteers to pass out these FAKE papers!

Gawker has a great peice on the subject, and The New York Times takes it in stride.

Check out the Web edition and PDF files. Too bad they didn’t produce any multimedia.

That’ll teach me to ignore the word “Free.”

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Bandwagon of the summer: News APIs

In May announced its intention to build an Application Programming Interface for its data. MediaBistro quoted Aron Pilhofer:

The goal, according to Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news, is to “make the NYT programmable. Everything we produce should be organized data.”

More details, if they can be called that:

Once the API is complete, the Times’ internal developers will use it to build platforms to organize all the structured data such as events listings, restaurants reviews, recipes, etc. They will offer a key to programmers, developers and others who are interested in mashing-up various data sets on the site. “The plan is definitely to open [the code] up,” Frons said. “How far we don’t know.”

I haven’t heard anything since then, although the article mentioned that something would be ready “in a matter of weeks.”

Today I spent some time reading the API documentation for National Public Radio.

That’s right, NPR has an API. (mmm, I love my alphabet soup.)

NPR’s API provides a flexible, powerful way to access your favorite NPR content, including audio from most NPR programs dating back to 1995 as well as text, images and other web-only content from NPR and NPR member stations. This archive consists of over 250,000 stories that are grouped into more than 5,000 different aggregations.

You can get results from Topics, Music Genres, Programs, Bios, Music Artists, Columns and Series in XML, RSS, MediaRSS, JSON, and Atom or through HTML and JavaScript widgets.

Now, I’m a bit of an NPR junkie, so I’m thinking of ways to access all this information for my personal use. And I can see how it could be useful as an internal product for NPR.

But how would another news organization use this? Oh wait, they can’t:

The API is for personal, non-commercial use, or for noncommercial online use by a nonprofit corporation which is exempt from federal income taxes under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

This one doesn’t make sense either:

Content from the API must be used for non-promotional, internet-based purposes only. Uses can include desktop gadgets, blog posts and widgets, but must not include e-newsletters.

And way down at the bottom of the page is a huge block of text describing excluded content. Boooo.

Check out these blog posts from Inside NPR.org, where they explain some of their decisions.

I think this was a great first step, but if you’re gonna jump on the bandwagon, make sure you don’t miss and land on the hitch.

cat

Further, really understand what purpose this bandwagon has. If you’re going to free your data, free it! Let people and news organizations use it (always with a link back) for all kinds of crazy things. Remember kids, sharing is caring!

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Applied Interactive Newspapers

The online capstone course, Applied Interactive Newspapers, is built to work like an internship.

There are 6 students in the class this semester. Each of us is responsible for pulling in 7 stories each week, from The New York Times or AP wire.

These stories are published on Newszine, the Interactive Media Lab’s news Web site.

Recently, in addition to the 7 stories, we were assigned a multimedia requirement. Each week, 2 Soundslides and 2 videos will be published to the site along with our stories, with labor divided among the staff.

It was my turn to do a video this week. I chose to do a video tutorial for using Soundslides. I wrote out my script and talked to my partner, Matt Gonzalez, about the shots. We set the camera up and also set the editing computer up for screen-casting.

Then I did my thing. I’m not particularly pleased with the outcome. I get massive stage fright as soon as the camera’s watching, even though I’m only on the screen for a few seconds.

But I learned a lot from this. I should have run through my actions a few times before I did it for the camera. It also could have done with a little more editing.

In any case, I’m learning a lot about video and editing, so by the time I graduate I should be pretty good at this.