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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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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Big Pictures Help Tell Big Stories

My second article for MediaShift’s Innovation Spotlight series is about Alan Taylor’s The Big Picture blog at Boston.com:
Big Pictures Help Tell Big Stories at Boston.com.

Newspapers and other media outlets use wire photos to add art to text stories. But have you noticed how small these photos usually are? Even online, where the spatial limitations of a print product don’t apply, old media outlets persist in shrinking pictures.

As newspapers struggle to figure out how to tell their stories online, many make the mistake of transfering print rules to the web. This results in the small photos and low-quality videos that frustrate so many users.

The Big Picture has created a way to display powerful images in a user-friendly manner.


The MediaShift Innovation Spotlight will run every other week. 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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PBS MediaShift Spotlight series

MediaShift Spotlight Innovation illustration by Omar Lee for MediaShift.A few weeks ago, MediaShift‘s Mark Glaser approached me (via e-mail) about doing a series for MediaShift on innovation in journalism.

I instantly replied with a list of possible projects to highlight. I’m really excited to be working on this.

After two weeks of interviews and back-and-forthing, my first post went live yesterday: Neighborhood Watch Puts Florida Home Sales on the Map.

I talked to the creator of Neighborhood Watch, Matt Waite, about how the project was conceived and built, and what the response has been like. Although we had some technical difficulties on Skype, I was able to get some audio and also did a screencast for the site.

I’ll be spotlighting a different project every two weeks. It doesn’t have to be from a mainstream media outlet, just a unique mashup of technology and journalism. (Please, if you know of or are working on something new and different, let me know in the comments or e-mail me at mtaylor(at)megantaylor(dot)org.

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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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Yet another “What I learned” post – Miami Herald Internship

Friday was the last day of my extended internship with The Miami Herald. I will miss working with such forward-thinking journalists, so many people who, whether they understand the intricacies of the digital world, really want to know how to make things work.

It’s amazing how close people can become in just a few short months. I feel like I have a family at the Herald: the people I worked with were kind, supportive and enthusiastic.

The most important thing I learned has nothing to do with skill set or journalism in particular. It was learning to work with people who believed in me from the start, who saw what I could do and let me do my job. It’s a heady feeling.

I also learned that, no matter where you are, there are always those silly bureaucratic things that get in the way of progress. I ran into these at The Alligator, but the Herald is no different. Another important lesson.

At The Miami Herald I was given the opportunities to work on projects on my own and in a team. I was able to help people tell stories online. I got to write a little bit. I was even given point on a huge project: building a new Flash package for a video project in AS3.

My internship is over, and I’m starting a new life in New York City. It’s exciting and scary, but with my experience and the people who believe in me, I know I can make it all come together.