Megan Taylor

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

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I caught the bug at a MediaStorm Workshop

Logo_MediaStormI should say, I re-caught the bug.

From September 19 – 25, I spent most of my time volunteering for MediaStorm’s Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshop.

I teamed up with Paolo Black, Melissa Pracht, Scott Lituchy and MediaStorm Producer Bob Sacha to tell a story about two young men who have made a career out of street entertainment. My role was to transcribe all the audio that was collected during shows and interviews.

I got to sit in on training sessions and lectures, and watch the MediaStorm team work their magic. And it was absolutely magical.

Talking the story over with the team showed me exactly how powerful a story like this can be and how we can learn from each other during its production. We all had our strengths and points of view, which contributed to a stronger piece than any of us could have produced individually.

I got home each day ranting about some new insight: interviewing techniques that get the subject to respond in complete sentences or the beauty of the extreme close-up. I looked at other MediaStorm projects, watching for the details we had talked about.

When I saw that my name was going in the credits for the project, and that I made a cameo in the Behind the Scenes production (at about 8:08) the grin on my face was big enough to fit an XL pizza.

There are parts of the experience I don’t want to remember. The ringing in my ears and the ache in my neck after transcribing for hours at a time. The frustration I felt as I watched the other members of the team working with high-end gear I can’t even dream of having. That doesn’t mean I won’t volunteer again. But next time, I’m taking a bottle of Aleve with me. And a point-and-shoot.

I started taking photos and shooting amateur videos long before I fell in love with journalism. In college, I took photography classes, including a study abroad trip to Berlin. I also did some independent study and in-class work with videography. Not to mention my work with both mediums at The Independent Florida Alligator, as I struggled to get reporters to get video and create audio slideshows along with their text articles.

So I caught the multimedia bug long ago. But once I lost access to the SLR and HD cameras, it got harder to be interested. I’d see a cool photo opportunity, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t afford to buy my own gear.

During this time, I turned to programming. I became more interested in data and applications and code than I had been with framing and sequences and lighting. Programming is a cheaper pursuit, and I’ve always been geeky enough to find the resources and teach myself.

Now, though, I catch myself walking around and seeing everything through a camera lens again. I wish I could afford even some low-end gear, because I know that otherwise, my interest will wane again. I will miss out on an aspect of storytelling every bit as important as programming or writing.

And although all the industry advice, including what I learned at MediaStorm, pushes specialization, I still want to know how to do it all.

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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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I Can Has Cheezburger will send one developer to SXSW

Cheezburger API Contest

In English: People who write software are invited to send in cool ideas to improve the software that runs I Can Has Cheezburger if we provided API (pronounced AIEE-PEE-AHHH) access to our photos and shtuffs.

In Lolspeak: Fansy pants and shiny fings for nuuuuurrrrds!!!

There are no words. I’m going to be thinking about this for the rest of the week.

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Journalism That Matters

Poynter is hosting another conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Journalism That Matters: Adapting Journalism to the New News Ecology

The conference will take place March 1 – 4, 2009.

The New News Ecology means new jobs, new tools, new relationships, new
businesses.

But journalism’s very survival — at least its values and functions — depends
on the ability of news organizations — and citizens — to adapt to a
dramatically evolving landscape.

Where, now, does the news industry end, and begin? As some newsrooms shrink and
morph, what — and where — are the new roles for journalists — and journalism —
in a broader civic sphere? How do we match journalism with the work of
non-profit organizations, government, civic and even advocacy groups . . .
without abandoning its core values and functions to democracy? Is it time for a
national journalism service corp?

Links:
Media Giraffe Project – Newsecology
Register
Slideshow

I really miss going to conferences. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to afford them again.

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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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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.

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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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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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Washington Post: TimeSpace

Awhile ago I realized that somehow I ended up on the Washington Post’s press release e-mail list. I’m not complaining, it’s a good way for me to find out about what they’re doing.

Today, the World section launched an app has has been around for a bit (I think they had a elections version) in beta. It’s called TimeSpace: World.

It’s pretty freakin’ cool, although sadly loading page page also loads a ginormous ad above the application. This is not quite what people mean when they talk about making web apps pay.

From the e-mail I got:

Using innovative technology, TimeSpace: World compiles all world news content from The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com, PostGlobal, Foreign Policy magazine, and partner sites including The Associated Press and Reuters onto one, customizable map.

Here’s how it works: coverage is collected into clusters around hot-spots on an interactive map. By clicking a cluster, users can view articles, blog posts, photos, videos, and even reporter twitter feeds (without leaving the page). A timeline below the map illustrates peaks in coverage and allows users to customize news searches to a specific day or hour.

They also made a widget for the app, and individual items have unique URLs for easy sharing. The content includes articles, blogs, photos and video.

I really like the idea, though unless you’re looking for something specific, it can get overwhelming to look at. The map is designed really well, with a neat sliding timeline function that also shows how much content there is for a specific time. Looks like there are some tracking possibilities here.

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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.