Megan Taylor

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

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Hobnobbery

In every one of my classes, professors have asked how many students read or write blogs. I am always a little shocked by how few have explored the potential of blogs.

Few of my friends share my enthusiasm for multimedia journalism blogs. Those that do tend to share my habit of speaking of these journalist/bloggers as if I’ve meet them. It’s a habit that those outside of the blogosphere find strange.

On Tuesday, I got to meet a few of my heroes. After almost 12 hours of observing and chatting with Joe Weiss, Regina McCombs, and Chuck Fadely, I found that the gods are mortal.

They’re not super-geniuses looking down on the rest of j-land. They’re people who have been in the business long enough to understand what journalism needs and how to get it. We discussed the ways people get into journalism, the development of Soundslides, differences of taste in online video and gossiped about the goings-on at various newspapers.

Thank you all for hangin’ out. It’s great to put a face and a voice to the people I admire.

Edit: What I get for writing posts on the go: It was Monday, not Tuesday.

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Google Search

Google has some pretty interesting search capabilities under way:

  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Left-hand search navigation
  • Right-hand contextual search navigation

and my personal favorite – timeline and map views.

For searches related to people, events and places, Google can create timelines and maps of the results. You would be able to see search results in chronological order or as points on a map.

Imagine searching for a news term and being able to see all the information in context. That’s unbelievably cool.

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(J)journalist/(P)programmer

Two recent events set off a discussion among the journalists whose blogs I read to the effect of: Do journalists need to be programmers?

Adrian Holovaty got a grant to go off and spend his days working on EveryBlock, and Northwestern University got a grant to provide scholarships to computer programmers who want to learn journalism.

Of course, this discussion has occurred in classrooms and newsrooms already, but this was the first explosion on the subject online. At the root, the problem is that in order to create great online content, SOMEONE in the newsroom needs to be able to work with databases (PHP), ActionScript (Flash), and CSS. But newspapers aren’t hiring, or programmers don’t get involved in journalism, or something occurs that prevents the newsroom from having access to someone who can write some code.

Here are some of the opinions that have appeared:

(A lot of people are differentiating between Programmers and programmers, Writers and writers. That’s why I use upper- and lower-cases differently.)

Matt Waite: In 2 separate posts, Matt explains the reasons newsrooms need programmers and who should/shouldn’t be learning it. His position is not that all journalists should learn to code, but that the people who have an interest in both writing and programming can bring more to the table. Ultimately, “Journalism needs all the innovators it can get.”

David Cohn: David, clearly on the side of journalists learning to code, asks where the scholarships are to teach journalists to program, and points out that the hot players in geek journalism are journalists turned coders, not the other way around.

Dan Gilmor: Journalists don’t need to learn to program, they need to learn how to work with programmers.

William Hartnett: “Journalists need to know programming. Not all of us, but some.” He differentiates between Programming and programming, and argues that some programming can be considered journalistic tasks, “clean up dirty personnel records from the school district or parse some messy addresses in crime data from the sheriff’s office.”

Scott Rosenberg: Scott supports the idea of journalists learning programming, but they don’t need to Program. More important, they need to understand the technology available for storytelling online.

Howard Owens: Howard is a journalist/programmer himself. But he recommends that journalists learn new skills that compliment their talents and individual situations. And these new skills should be applicable online. In a later update, Howard says the instead of all running off to learn to code, journalists should “figure out the niche your employer needs filled, and fill it.”

To me, online journalism encompasses all of the aspects of the Internet, be it code or multimedia. I’m not sure you can call yourself an Online Journalist if your Web page is all HTML tables and a few lines of PHP make you quiver like Jell-o. If you don’t feel comfortable writing code from scratch, you should at least be able to edit it.

I’m definitely in favor of a scholarship for journalist/programmers and programmer/journalists. I feel like some journalism students are afraid to learn code because it is associated with, or feels like, math. I’m no math genius, I never got past statistics, and the only math I’ve come across so far is adding up margins and padding in CSS and adding seconds for audio in ActionScript.

I may never be able to build anything as cool as chicagocrime.org. But I enjoy coding, in the same way that I enjoy writing. So scholarship or not, I’ll learn how to manipulate database information, build time lines and maps in Flash, and anything else that looks like a great way to spread information online.

Edit: Matt can’t seem to keep his site up and running, so you’ll have to search archives.org for his post.

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(i)Google Gadgets

Last year, productivity blog Lifehacker declared that MSN Autos had the best gas price comparison.

So what makes MSN so great? First, they use the Oil Price Information system which contains more data in almost real time compared to volunteer “spotter” based sites like GasBuddy.com. Second the gas prices at MSN were listed in order from least to most expensive, were the most expansive (in personal tests), and included an interactive map, as well.

I just got my driver’s license and a car, so now I care about finding the cheapest gas in town. I haven’t seen any further comparisons or analysis, so I’ll let that stand.

Which brings me to Local Gas Prices, a gadget for your Google homepage that uses MSN Autos to find the cheapest gas in your area. Granted, I still have to plug the addresses into Google Maps, but at least I can get an at-a-glance idea at how many hours I need to work this week.

This is definitely not the most exciting thing to come my way this week. But I stuck around for a while because I love finding ways to use information that’s already online. Why should I have to build a whole new database when I can yank from someone else’s? (Let’s not get started on the legal aspects of this, that’s a whole different blog post.) I’d love to see a newspaper Web site build something like this (maybe even a Facebook app?) and do it well: on a map.

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Valedictorians and Graduations

My little sister just graduated from high school, and I’m recovering from taking the time from work and class to attend the ceremony.

Interesting tidbit: No more valedictorians. Dade County schools (possibly others, too) are switching to a cum laude system to keep schemers from getting the honor without earning it. The class speakers for graduations will be elected.

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Gatorade + Pretzels + Diesel Fuel = Bonfire!

I took this video at the University of Florida Public Interest Environmental Conference (PIEC) after-party in March. It’s a little long, but well worth it, I think. And yes, my hands are shaking.

I’ve decided I like Brightcove better than YouTube. Faster upload, better quality, nicer interface.

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A Reminder: the Web-literacy rate is low

A series of late-night calls from my sister last night reminded me that most people don’t know where the best free Web site hosting is, how to create content outside of the limitations of WYSIWYG, or how to use HTML or CSS correctly.

Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert is CSS, but I’ve been using HTML since I was 12. What surprised me most was how much CSS I really have absorbed.

Backtrack: My sister had to create a Web site about an author as a class project. She was finishing up and working of the Works Cited section when she called me, asking how to create links, spaces between paragraphs, and indentations.

I instantly went into a series of CSS styles that would take care of the spacing, rattling off margins and padding off the top of my head. Then I realized that she wouldn’t know how to implement any of that, being limited to Tripod’s free web space. (Nothing against Tripod, that’s where my first site was hosted.)

It took about 30 seconds to explain the uses of paragraph and pre-formated tags; and a few minutes to talk her out of using the “space” hack.

I spent a good five minutes laughing at myself for being such a geek.

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Holocaust Memorial Museum + Google Earth

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has created several layers for Google Earth: one concentrating on the Darfur Crisis, a time line of concentration camps in Europe, and a Google Earth interface to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Zoom down and see what a burned village looks like from above, the vast tent cities of people displaced from their homes, and photographs on the ground of refugees struggling to survive. Read eyewitness testimony of atrocities in attacked villages.
The Museum is using Google Earth to map key Holocaust sites with historic content from its collections, powerfully illustrating the enormous scope and impact of the Holocaust.
Each place name links to a featured article with related historical photographs, testimony clips, maps, artifacts, and film footage.

The Holocaust of World War II was a constant theme both in my public school classes and during my Jewish education. When I was Bat Mitzvahed at 12, my parents took me to New York, where we visited every Holocaust memorial in NYC. When my Jewish summer camp went to D.C. for a week, the focus was again Holocaust memorials.

While I appreciated the history of my heritage, the constant barrage was a little desensitizing. I became more interested in other cases of genocide: Gypsies, Pagans, Kurds; I was interested in the persecution of peoples other than my own.

In high school, with youthful idealism and indignation (that was only 4 years ago…) I ranted against the hypocrisy of the post-WWII slogan, “Never again.”

This personal history is what makes the USHMM/Google Earth package strike a chord with me. It is beautifully crafted and so powerful that I couldn’t absorb it all at once. I had to keep taking some time to think about what I’d read and seen, before going on. I really hope that this package can drive home the atrocities that are being committed.

My only gripe is that the package requires Google Earth. If they had found a way to integrate the package with Google Maps as well, I think it would reach far more people. But, it takes baby steps to change the world.