Megan Taylor

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

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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?

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Why I am the Future of Journalism

I submitted this for my entry to Publish2’s “I Am the Future of Journalism” Contest:

I have the will and the adaptability to be the future of journalism.

It’s not that I know how to write stories, use a video camera and write code.

Those are secondary qualities.

I am passionate about news. Passionate enough to learn new skills, to experiment with technology, to challenge myself to tell stories in multiple dimensions.

The power of news is change. It’s a cliche, but knowledge really is power, and journalists are the disseminators of information.

In journalism school they say “Show, don’t tell.” Somewhat ironically, print stories are limited in this capacity. Radio and television are better at showing.

But the mediums are merging. The buzzword is “convergence,” but what it means is that the media is catching up with technology.

A story is no longer a block of text. It is more than the sum of it’s parts; it includes video, links, databases, infographics and audio. A story is an experience. And when forced to acknowledge wrongness on such a level, how can people but work to change it?

Journalism makes an idealist out of me.

I’ve worked in a cramped college newsroom and a spacious metro daily. But the job was the same: What is the best way to make this information meaningful?

To that end, I’ve used Flash, Twitter, maps, video, podcasts. I’m learning more programming languages, exploring social media and experimenting with the possibilities introduced by the Internet.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist in the early 20th century, said “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” The more tools we have, the better our stories become, because there isn’t just one way to do it.

I’m going to need a ginormous toolbox.

I don’t dream of working in a smoke-filled newsroom, surrounded by press hats and old coffee. I dream of the day when the world is my newsroom. I’ll work from the streets or my living room, and the physical state of the newsroom will be a server.

I AM THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM CONTEST.  Rate my entry!

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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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TNTJ December: Online Branding

This month, the topic for Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists is

How have you built your personal brand and marketed yourself online? Have your efforts been effective? If so, please give some examples.

I wrote Self-marketing for social caterpillars describing both my branding efforts and the benefits of online branding for those of us who never learned to “work the room.”

What are you doing to market yourself online or maintain your personal brand?

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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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SOJO is dead, Megan’s blog lives on

I’ve decided to retire SOJO: Student of Online Journalism as the title of my blog.

Although I am always learning, and in some respect will always remain a “Student of Online Journalism,” my posts have been veering farther and father from that topic.

I will continue to write about “the Web, the media and journalism,” and my own experiences in these areas. I’ll probably write about some other random stuff too.

But I’ve graduated from school, and as harsh as the real world is in comparison, that’s where I live now. So, good-bye SOJO. But I’m going to keep writing.

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I’m in the gray, working with public relations

I’ve been wanting to write a bit about what I’m doing and where I’m working, but had trouble figuring out how to approach the subject.

You see, I work for a PR company.

I can hear you all gasping. No, I have NOT crossed over to the “dark side.”

PR companies are scrambling like most other institutional businesses to figure out this whole “Internet thing.” My job as “Digital Media Intern” is to move Quinn & Co. forward by teaching how social media works. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, the whole kit and caboodle.

So I’ve been doing lots of research: what’s the best blogging platform for their purposes, how can the company and their clients build loyalty through Twitter and Facebook, how to monitor brands with Google Alerts, optimizing press releases and websites for search engines, and building lists of bloggers and micro-bloggers for Real Estate, Travel and Food, Wine & Spirits.

I’ve also been doing some multimedia work: a video from a media panel, working on an interactive email design.

All of which is very helpful in getting to my goal.

I want to work in news. No question. I don’t care if it’s a newspaper, magazine, radio station, because when you get to the website, it’s all the same.

Ultimately, news outlets have to learn the kinds of things I’m learning now. How do you build niche audiences online? How do you manage an online community? And so on.

While my true love is reporting through multimedia (including data), this is fun, too. I’ve never liked the black hat/white hat metaphor, so I’m working in shades of gray.

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Google will tell you when you’re going to get sick

I hate flu season.

Mostly because everyone around me gets sick and depressed and my well-meaning parents nag me to get a shot I don’t have time to wander around looking for.

Somehow, despite not getting a flu shot since sometime in middle school, I haven’t had the flu in years. The last time I got it, I was ridiculously sick for 24 hours, and then I was just fine. I <3 my immune system. But for those of you who do get sick, Google has a new toy for you. (If ever I were going to be a fangirl, it would be for Google.)

Using the existing Google Trends, Google Flu Trends predicts flu activity based on search terms.

From their about page:

Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer. You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Trends. But can search query trends provide an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

But my favorite part is this: You can download the raw data being used to generate all those nifty charts and maps.

Now, someone please tell me they’ve downloaded that data and are turning it into a swoon-worthy app for their news website?

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Election Afterthoughts

Last night was one of most exciting of my life. I got to watch America do something special.

I got home around 6:30, right after the first polls closed. I stayed hooked to television and computer until just after President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was an amazing experience.

During past elections, information was sought largely from television news. This time, I paid more attention to a large selection of Web sites than to the obnoxious commentary of political analysts. Apparently, so did a lot of other people:

According to Akamai, which is the content delivery network for most major news sites including CNN (which had a record day on its own), NBC, Reuters, and the BBC, global visitors to news sites peaked last night at 11 PM with 8,572,042 visitors per minute.
That is double the normal traffic level, and 18 percent above the previous peak of 7.3 million visitors per minute achieved during the World Cup back in June, 2006. (The third biggest peak to news sites was last March during the first day of the U.S. college basketball playoffs when it hit 7 million visitors per minute).(TechCrunch)

Most of the links below aren’t to news sites, though. These are passionate and creative people who found different ways to reflect on what we all saw last night. A little bit of meta-coverage, if you will.

Mark Luckie put together a time-lapse video of the NYTimes home page from last night. It starts while voters are still at the polls and ends with Obama’s victory. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” was an inspired musical choice.

Mark Newman and his cartogram software showed how skewing the normal red/blue map according to population or electoral votes is a better graphical representation of how America voted.

Daily Kos collected headlines and newspaper front pages in the US and elsewhere. Excellent collection with some really creative designs.

My friend Matthew Gonzalez grabbed some screen shots from news Web sites’ home pages. I really love the NYTimes treatment.

Designer Robb Montgomery collects his best picks of front pages. I have to agree, the Chicago Sun-Times front is amazingly powerful. He also brings us “a video tour and spot critique of top U.S. media Web sites and their election graphics at the moment when Sen. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election.”

ReadWriteWeb put together a really cool slideshow of election coverage online, showing resources from Twitter to Ustream, news sites and more.

Mindy McAdams put together her own slideshow of voting maps and home pages.