Megan Taylor

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

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TNTJ September: If you were the editor of your local paper, what would you do?

Here’s the first response this month:

TNTJ: Review of The Journal and Courier Web site | By Daniel Victor.

VERDICT: I give it a B-. If your priority is to quickly scan and access the news of the day, this site does it better than most out there.

What it lacks, though, is the kind of innovation that will push the newspaper’s brand forward. It has to better package its Web-only content and show why the site can become more than a place to stop for news.

I think it’s interesting that the question was interpreted as “critique the Web site.”

I work for my local paper and am moving soon, so unless someone else is willing to switch with me as Daniel and Meranda did, I’m staying out of this one.

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College media needs CMS options

A few days ago I got an email from Daniel Bachhuber, who is working with the Oregon Daily Emerald.

He wanted to know if I was interested in discussion content management system options for college media. After my time as online managing editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, struggling with a CMS that liked to fight dirty, I’ve daydreamed of building a modular open-source system myself.

The problem:

College Publisher is an inappropriate platform for student newspapers
but most newspapers don’t have the resources to custom roll their own
CMS.

The Alligator uses TownNews, but the idea is the same.

Daniel started a wiki, College News Press, as well as a mailing group to keep track of ideas and coordinate discussion. The wiki includes tasks, benchmarks and platform comparisons.

His vision:

  • To create an easy to deploy, simple to use (open source?) content management system (CMS) with varying levels of sophistication that is specifically geared towards the student newspaper and local news market.
  • To provide abundant knowledge resources to student newspapers interested in switching platforms that have minimal IT manpower.

Daniel is even submitting an application for the Knight News Challenge!

I’m really excited to work on this, even though I’m no longer a member of the college media sector. The two biggest problems with newspaper Web sites are site design and CMS limitations. Hacking a CMS should not be among the things we have to do to be innovative.

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Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists

I just joined the “Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists” young journalist’s blog ring.

We’ll write about a different topic each month and address issues important to the under 30 crowd.

This month’s kickoff topic is: The biggest challenge facing a young journalist in today’s media is…

Check out my answer and others at Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists.

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Newspaper curmudgeon talking points

This is amazing. Must memorize. Where did I hide my index cards?

• Comments are worthless vitriol and they degrade the work of journalists.

• Never link to your competitors, you’re just giving them traffic!

• Social media is a fad. Investing in it now will be a waste of time and money when it all goes bottom-up.

• A blog is not a tool for journalism, it is for people in robes writing about their cats.

• Citizen journalists suck. They’re biased! They have opinions and everything. Act like they own politics.

From:

The ultimate guide to newspaper curmudgeon talking points — Eat Sleep Publish.

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Journalism job trends

Ever since I made my relationship with journalism official – I finally committed on paper as a junior in college – I’ve been trolling JournalismJobs.com. That obsession only grew when I graduated 2 months ago.

I keep an eye out for opportunities for myself and people I know, but also for trends: what skills are wanted, what kinds of jobs are open, where papers are hiring.

The first two things I noticed were that the average years of experience desired had gone up, and there were more upper-echelon jobs open. Years of experience went from 2-3 to 5-and-up over the past year or so. Just out of college, that’s not good news for me. I also see a lot more ____ Editor jobs – not counting the ubiquitous “Web” or “online” editor position (usually a cut-and-paste job!) – and sports writing positions. Why are there so many sports positions open when that’s one of the most popular beats in the newsroom?

More interesting than the job titles are the job descriptions. Lists of skills and vague descriptions of expected duties tell us almost as much about the state of journalism as the recent spate of layoffs.

My favorite job description is the search for “computer jesus”. These are the job descriptions that list 100 programming languages plus multimedia skills. Yea, right. Am I running the entire news site and producing content all by myself?

Then there’s the “we don’t know what we want you to do but we’re supposed to hire an online person” job description. This one, from The Times-News in Idaho, actually made me want to cry:

Must have visual design skills and be knowledgeable on Internet concepts and the latest developments on the Web. Must be proficient in PHP, HTML, Javascript, XML, Macromedia Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Writing skills are a plus. (emphasis added)

Writing skills are a plus? Are you serious? Hiring a journalist – you’re doing it wrong.

I realize that a lot of these are written by people who really don’t know enough to narrow down what they want. And I’m not trying to put those people down. But between this post on putting together a Web team and this one on journalism job salaries, I thought there was a place for a little something on the chaotic state of journalism job descriptions.

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Small fish, big pond

So I’m a day and a half into my internship at The Miami Herald. I am a “multimedia intern.”

It’s a little gloomy around here, but most of that is rain. People are starting to make jokes about the cuts and motivation still seems high. Then again, I didn’t see much of the newsroom before Monday, so I don’t really have any basis for comparison.

I was afraid of the changes I would face in moving from a managerial position at a small paper to a flunky at a huge paper. I shouldn’t have worried. Even though the newsroom here is enormous, the online group is pretty small. I’m a medium-sized fish in this room.

Yesterday I built a little sidebar for a page on the site and today I’m working on a page for a series of stories. So far I’m being handed assignments and then pretty much left to myself to get them done. Just the way I like to work.

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Comment Inspired: Job Descriptions

About a week ago this comment showed up here on my blog:

“I’d like to learn more about the process to publish at a professional epaper, about functions and tasks of reporter, sub-editor, IT technician, web master… Could you tell me about those? Tks”

I’ve spent the last week trying to define these different jobs, and I’m not satisfied with what I came up with. Every newspaper seems to function differently, especially as far as publishing online goes.

Anyone want to chip in some descriptions?

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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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Berlin is a shit-hot sexy city

Yes, there is a story behind the title.

On Friday I set out down Prenzlauer Allee toward Alexanderplatz to find a subject for my class project. I figured that if I walked all the way the the Brandenburg Gate and couldn’t find a subject somewhere along the way, I need to go back to school.

I’m not sure how Germans view newspapers and journalists, but it can’t be good. There was a guy in Alexanderplatz holding a sign and talking to people about the vegan lifestyle. He got all excited when he found out I was American, because his group gets all their statistics and facts from American vegan groups. After about 30 mins I tried to get him to be my subject, and he sorta freaked out. Time to move on.

My next attempt was down by St. Marienkirsch. A bunch of tough-looking punks were gathered around a black van with their dogs. I walked up and sorta hung around until someone spoke to me in English. Turns out the van is owned by a group that brings food to Berlin’s homeless. The woman in charge didn’t want to do an interview either.

I actually did have to walk all the way to the Gate. The horse-drawn carriage drivers didn’t speak enough English, the performance artists were, well, performing.

bad portraitsThen I saw a bright pink sign. It said “Bad Portraits.” Not even thinking about my project, I started talking to Neb, the man behind the sign. About an hour later, he agreed to let me come back the next day and take photos.

I met up with Michelle and Robyn later to do sunset shots of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

Most of Saturday I spent shooting. Neb was a great subject; acted like I wasn’t there.
Neb Poulton

Yesterday I went to a huge flea market. It looked like 50 people had emptied their attics out onto tables. There was a guy selling only masking tape. Another table was filled with screwdrivers.

Hopefully today will be a shopping day. I still need to find a German army jacket. I finished my project and other work for the class this morning.

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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!