Megan Taylor

web developer, hack-n-slasher, freelancer, information junkie, journalist, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

The programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk… – Life and Code

“The programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk all day to a machine that demands declarations, hunkers down into a low-grade annoyance. It is here that the stereotype of the programmer, sitting in a dim room, growling from behind Coke cans, has its origins. The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow Post-It notes everywhere; the whiteboards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought. The messiness cannot go into the program; it piles up around the programmer.”

Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents (1997), p. 23

via Life and Code.

post

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.

post

Scaring highschoolers about the future of journalism

On Wednesday evening I spoke to a group of five students who are taking part in the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative.

I’ve mentioned BYJI here before, mostly begging for help with my public speaking anxiety.

To my surprise, the whole thing went pretty well. The kids were Web-savvy enough to have uploaded a few videos to YouTube, and knew of Twitter, though none are using it yet.

I talked about the “newspaper crisis” caused by lack of innovation, an old business model and the problems with advertising and paywalls. (The kids’ immediate reaction to paywalls: “That won’t work.” Out of the mouths…) I went over the basics of online journalism: blogs, social networks, multimedia. I also talked about citizen journalism a little bit, in terms of how everyone can have a voice in their communities, which is a big problem in the Bronx. They really liked the concepts of “Not Just a Number,” which I showed them, along with the Las Vegas Sun Web site.

One student asked me how he could learn to code, and I directed him to the W3Schools site. Another asked about the future of news on e-readers like the Kindle. And of course the final question was “Where are we going?”

Thanks to Mindy McAdams, Craig Lee, and Tracy Boyer for their advice and inspiration. I’ve uploaded a powerpoint presentation to Slideshare which I used as a guide for my presentation, although it was really more a conversation than a speech.

post

Resolution and Project Update

So I made some resolutions in January, and two months into the new year I guess it’s about time to see how I’ve been doing.

One of the things I wanted to work on was posting to my blog more often. I did well in January, with 24 posts. But not so much this month, with one week left and only seven posts. Clearly, I’m going to have to work on plan to find, think or do more interesting things to write about.

As for learning Javascript…I’ve written a few simple scripts for pop-up windows and the like at work, but I haven’t been making progress with my Lynda.com videos. I’m thinking about finding a text resource; the Lynda.com videos go really slowly for me.

I have been making some progress on PHP, mostly through more advanced manipulations of WordPress. Haven’t started any formal learning though. Should wait until I’m done with Javascript.

Although I have not been writing for BrightHub once a week, and I’ve been neglecting NewsVideographer as well, I have been writing a whole lot for my Innovation Spotlight series at MediaShift. I had so many projects for January and February that I wrote mini-spotlights on the off-weeks. I’m looking for new projects now though…

I said in my resolutions post that I would produce one multimedia or web development project each month. I haven’t really kept up with that, mostly because every time I turn around, I get in my own way. Right now I’m dealing with some PostgreSQL issues on my Mac. However, I did edit this video for Quinn and Co., Public Relations.

My last resolution was about getting involved in my community. I got in touch with the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative a few weeks ago and I will be helping them out with a new Web site and hopefully a guest lecture.

post

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.

post

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.

post

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.