Megan Taylor

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

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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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Times Labs and the Data Challenge

This morning I discovered the Times Labs blog, where the Times Online is writing about innovation in online journalism and sharing experiences.

It was through this blog that I found out about the Digging into Data Challenge.

diggingdata

DIDC was announced by agencies in the U.S. UK and Canada to search for ways to use the huge amounts of data that have become available to the public.

The idea behind the Digging into Data Challenge is to answer the question “what do you do with a million books?” Or a million pages of newspaper? Or a million photographs of artwork? That is, how does the notion of scale affect humanities and social science research? Now that scholars have access to huge repositories of digitized data — far more than they could read in a lifetime — what does that mean for research?

Applicants have to form teams from two out of the three countries. A list of data repositories is provided, although it doesn’t look like you’d have to use those specific datasets.

DIDC is being sponsored by “the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) from the United Kingdom, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the United States, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) from Canada.”

Submit a “Letter of Intent” by March 15, 2009, final applications are due July 15, 2009. Winners will be announced in December, and will receive grants to build their projects.

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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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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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Spotlight Extended, Call for Projects

mediashift_spotlightI started out this month really wanting to highlight newer, better projects in my Innovation Spotlight Series at MediaShift.

I spent a week or so collecting, sorting, e-mailing, and calling. I’ve spent the past 2 weeks doing interviews. And I ended up with 4 or 5 projects I wanted to write about.

Wait a sec, my posts only come out every other week…

I had two choices: hold onto some projects for next month or do mini-posts on my off-week.

I didn’t want to hold onto things because I’m sure that I’ll be flooded with great new projects next month as well. I was concerned that the inconsistency of the mini-posts – I won’t always have the time or material to do them – would affect the series.

But I got over that. And thus I present you with a mini-Spotlight, discussing the natural evolution of journalism from data collection to online tracking tool: ProPublica Puts Spotlight on Tracking TARP Money.

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.

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Actionscript and Javascript

A few weeks ago I started following a NY listserve for Flash. I’ve gathered a good number of snippets and learned a lot so far, although I’m still just a lurker. I’m hoping to make it to a meet-up soon.

In any case, an item came in about the relationship between Actionscript and Javascript, which really inspired me to finish up my formal education in Javascript so that I can jump head-first into heavier Actionscript.

The e-mail was about a series of lectures hosted on the Yahoo Developer Network by Douglas Crockford. Crockford is Yahoo’s Javascript Architect and author of “Javascript: The Good Parts.”

Because Actionscript 1 was based heavily on Javascript, and AS3 hasn’t changed that much, these lectures are applicable to both languages.

Mentioned specifically were “The Javascript Programming Language” and “Advanced Javascript.”

I haven’t worked my way through all the lectures yet (they are segmented into three and four parts) but what I’ve seen so far is really helping me wrap my head around some of the language theory.

I haven’t decided yet whether I like learning programming from a video. In some cases, it’s the best option for a clean, class-style experience. Otherwise I’d be reading a bunch of articles all over the place with no real connection, and missing out on important information in the process. But I’ve been watching Lynda.com videos on Javascript and it’s kind of tedious. I can read a lot faster, and I feel like I assimilate information better by reading.

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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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News Web site user interfaces

Patrick Thornton wrote about user interfaces today, and how news Web sites are so loath to move away from an interface that mimicks the print product.

The last time I visited a news Web site, I was an employee of the paper working on code changes. I’m not counting clicking through to articles, but deliberately going to the home page of a site.

So Where Do I Get News?

I get my news from a couple of sources:

  • Google Reader, where I’m subscribed to over 400 blogs and news sites (including a personalized version of Google News), in addition to recieving shared content from all my friends
  • Twitter, where I follow over 400 users, mostly journalists
  • The AP Mobile News application on my phone. Great for the long commute to work.

Why Don’t I Go To News Sites?

Because they don’t give me what I want. Because I prefer serendipity.

I’m interested in a lot of things and a lot of places and a lot of people. There isn’t one place where I can get all the information I want. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to spend all day bouncing from site to site, hoping someone wrote or produced something I care about.

The other reason is this: A lot of people complain about the Internet being an echo chamber. To some degree, this sucks. I have to scroll through a bunch of work that is the same concept iterated over and over.

But, since I don’t visit news sites, I also don’t see the hierarchy that editors and readers have placed on certain stories. The echo chamber mitigates this problem for me, because I can gurantee that if something is important (or even important only to a certain group of people…people I chose to follow because I care about what’s important to them…) I’ll see it at least 5 times in Google Reader and another 20 on Twitter.

Is a different UI (user interface) really going to change my behavior? I’ll still have to visit multiple sites. The river of news (a la Facebook or Twitter) can get really annoying when I’m looking for something specific. For me, that only works seredipitously. And those cool mapping UI are just cluttery and hard to focus on. To be honest, if I’m looking for articles on a specific topic, I’ll just do a Google search.

Thornton is right, though: news Web sites need to stop emulating print. But they need to do it in a way that actually helps the users. We’ve learned certain behaviors when looking for content online. There are rules that we expect Web sites to follow, and when those are bent too much, we get frustrated. Not good for news sites.

So the question is, without breaking basic UI rules or being gimmicky, how should news sites be designed differently?

Edit: Check out the comments for a discussion between Aron Pilhofer and myself about user interface vs. user interaction.

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NOT Another Resolution: Learn Design

I deliberately left something out of my resolutions post last week.

I left out my recent efforts to defeat my greatest weakness: Design.

Forget about when I started building Web sites (age 11), my relationship with design didn’t start until I got into online journalism.

And I learned that I couldn’t design my way out of a keg. ::shudder::

For a while I thought I could get away without being able to design visual elements. I could shoot photos and video, I could program in Flash and code a site from a .pdf. After all, there’s a reason for having designers, right?

I was wrong. I learned that sometimes, there just isn’t enough designer to go around, and you have to be able to make your own decisions. Things move faster and more smoothly if I don’t have to go ask the designer about an element.

Also, there are design elements to everything else I do online, from customizing a Twitter page to visualizing data. I was going to have to learn.

But how do you learn design?

I didn’t take a class, or sign up for a workshop. I just started reading design blogs. Following designers on Twitter. Paying attention to what I liked about certain Web sites and what made them ugly.

And I’ve made progress. I’m not good at details, but I can spec an overall design that doesn’t make people wish for blindness. I’d say I’ve reached paper bag status (as in can design my way out of), but anything more is beyond me.

I want to get better, because I hate not being able to do things. And because Web deisgn is important. I know I’ll never be a designer, but it would be nice to have a touch of the craft.

So if you’ve got resources, blogs, Web sites, or people that I should be paying attention to, please let me know in the comments.

Edit: I decided to add in a list of what I’m reading.