Megan Taylor

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

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A journalist outside of j-school

…not quite like a fish out of water.

I graduated from the University of Florida 5 months ago, and it took this long to realize that while I brag that everything I know comes to me from Google Reader and Twitter, I knew a lot more when I was surrounded by other journalists.

I knew who the badass journalists were, I knew when and where the awesome conferences were and I knew where to turn for any other information I didn’t have at my fingertips.

Now I’m 1,000 miles away from that network. I don’t know anybody here, I don’t know where to look for all the things I used to know.

So my question today is, as a journalist learning to be out of school, where do I turn?

I want to know when there are good conferences or panels in the city. I want to forge relationships with other journalists. Where before I was guided by my teachers, I now have to do these things myself.

Any advice?

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Have I been hacked?!

So, I write up my post for today, publish and check the site, only to find that three of my recent posts no longer exist! The comments are gone, the posts are gone, and the only record is in Google’s cache and my RSS reader.

Does anyone know of recent WordPress vulnerabilities? How can I check to see if I was hacked?

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Florida journo living in NYC

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. My first reaction to being up north was “Holy crap, I can walk outside and not instantly have to take a shower!”

Two weeks after moving into our apartment, it finally feels like home. Took a while to get the couch, bookshelves, refrigerator, desk chair…we’re still waiting on the mailbox keys. These things take time.

There are a lot of new things to take in:

I’ve been doing a lot of job interviews in Lower Manhattan. We live in Kings Bridge Heights, which is almost as far north as you can get and still be in the City. So it takes me about 45 mins to get where I’m going. Then, since I’m already in the area, I spend some time getting lost, taking the wrong trains, window shopping and just taking in the local scenery. I’ve spent hours wandering around Broadway and Canal St. in the last few days.

Our first couple of days here I got really excited every time we had to walk up or down a hill. Gimme a break, we don’t have hills in Miami. (Unless you count Mt. Trashmore.) I’ve learned the truth about hills: walking uphill sucks.

There is also the delightful surprise!-this-is-a-deadend-actually-it’s-a-flight-of-stairs-in-the-middle-of-a-street phenomenon. A street will literally turn into several flights of stairs before turning back into a street. Wha?!

Straws. How come every bottle of Mountain Dew or Becks has to come with a straw? I don’t want a straw. The bottles are too tall for the straws. Since my beverage was sealed until I opened it, I’m really not THAT concerned about touching my mouth to the rim. Straws are just another thing I have to find a garbage can for, along the with the bag and the receipt.

The subway system itself is a magical world filled with the possibilities of getting lost. Really, really lost. Never mind that I’m not familiar with the city, stick me underground and the only directions I’m sure of are up and down. Emerging into the sunlit world once more, it’s only Google Maps Mobile that keeps me from spending even more time wandering aimlessly around.

New York is the dirtiest, meanest and simultaneously most wonderful place I’ve ever been.

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Learning ActionScript 3.0

When I set out to learn a new programming language, I usually take baby steps:

  • Read as much as possible about the language
  • Find the experts online and see what they’re saying/doing
  • Find and work through beginner tutorials
  • Come up with an idea to build something on my own

It usually takes a good 3 months or so before I get to that last step.

I didn’t get that luxury with AS3. A few weeks ago, I started watching the AS3 tutorials at Lynda.com. I had been assigned to rebuild The Miami Herald’s 60 Seconds project.
The current project is written in AS2. All the bits and pieces are internal. My mission was to rebuild it in AS3 and make it load information from an XML file so that it could be updated easily.

I started out with a series of classes: one to load the XML, one to parse it, one to define the thumbnails, etc. These classes were refined and rewritten until I got the thumbnails to load into the screen, much as they do in the original version.

It’s taken me 3 weeks to get that far. Google is my best friend. The next few steps:

  • fix interface so that when more videos are added, the screen will scroll left and right to show the additional videos
  • clicking on a thumbnail will go to large version of video with description etc, pulled from XML
  • add commenting, feedback and rating functionality

Right now, I can’t even begin to figure out how that’s going to get done. But it will, and I’ll learn a lot from the experience.

Check my Del.icio.us bookmarks for AS3 resources.

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College media needs CMS options

A few days ago I got an email from Daniel Bachhuber, who is working with the Oregon Daily Emerald.

He wanted to know if I was interested in discussion content management system options for college media. After my time as online managing editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, struggling with a CMS that liked to fight dirty, I’ve daydreamed of building a modular open-source system myself.

The problem:

College Publisher is an inappropriate platform for student newspapers
but most newspapers don’t have the resources to custom roll their own
CMS.

The Alligator uses TownNews, but the idea is the same.

Daniel started a wiki, College News Press, as well as a mailing group to keep track of ideas and coordinate discussion. The wiki includes tasks, benchmarks and platform comparisons.

His vision:

  • To create an easy to deploy, simple to use (open source?) content management system (CMS) with varying levels of sophistication that is specifically geared towards the student newspaper and local news market.
  • To provide abundant knowledge resources to student newspapers interested in switching platforms that have minimal IT manpower.

Daniel is even submitting an application for the Knight News Challenge!

I’m really excited to work on this, even though I’m no longer a member of the college media sector. The two biggest problems with newspaper Web sites are site design and CMS limitations. Hacking a CMS should not be among the things we have to do to be innovative.

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Suggestions for changes at SOJo

This week I’ve been thinking about restructuring some areas of this site, as well as getting into a more stable posting schedule.

The first area of concern is the sidebar of this blog. I’ve already started messing with a few things, for example the blogroll. I had the blogroll pulling automatically from a folder in Google Reader. But I think its more serviceable to have links to things I’ve read or bookmarked recently, instead of a list of sites I may or may not have updated in months. What do you think?

What items are actually useful in a blog sidebar? What should go higher or lower? What do you look for?

I’m also going to change the postings from Delicious. I’ve been having problems with their auto-posting service for my bookmarks, and I’d rather have real content on here and put bookmarks in the sidebar. Besides, you can always grab the feed from my Delicious page or add me to your network.

My Twitter account is basically my “lifestream,” and I don’t want to duplicate that too much here. But I still want to provide easy access to all that information. Maybe a separate page that displays that?

I also need to update the Clips section. I want to provide a little more context, maybe break it up into sections for text, video, programming, etc.

I’d love any suggestions, and you’ll notice a few changes as I figure out what I want to do this week.

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Bandwagon of the summer: News APIs

In May announced its intention to build an Application Programming Interface for its data. MediaBistro quoted Aron Pilhofer:

The goal, according to Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news, is to “make the NYT programmable. Everything we produce should be organized data.”

More details, if they can be called that:

Once the API is complete, the Times’ internal developers will use it to build platforms to organize all the structured data such as events listings, restaurants reviews, recipes, etc. They will offer a key to programmers, developers and others who are interested in mashing-up various data sets on the site. “The plan is definitely to open [the code] up,” Frons said. “How far we don’t know.”

I haven’t heard anything since then, although the article mentioned that something would be ready “in a matter of weeks.”

Today I spent some time reading the API documentation for National Public Radio.

That’s right, NPR has an API. (mmm, I love my alphabet soup.)

NPR’s API provides a flexible, powerful way to access your favorite NPR content, including audio from most NPR programs dating back to 1995 as well as text, images and other web-only content from NPR and NPR member stations. This archive consists of over 250,000 stories that are grouped into more than 5,000 different aggregations.

You can get results from Topics, Music Genres, Programs, Bios, Music Artists, Columns and Series in XML, RSS, MediaRSS, JSON, and Atom or through HTML and JavaScript widgets.

Now, I’m a bit of an NPR junkie, so I’m thinking of ways to access all this information for my personal use. And I can see how it could be useful as an internal product for NPR.

But how would another news organization use this? Oh wait, they can’t:

The API is for personal, non-commercial use, or for noncommercial online use by a nonprofit corporation which is exempt from federal income taxes under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

This one doesn’t make sense either:

Content from the API must be used for non-promotional, internet-based purposes only. Uses can include desktop gadgets, blog posts and widgets, but must not include e-newsletters.

And way down at the bottom of the page is a huge block of text describing excluded content. Boooo.

Check out these blog posts from Inside NPR.org, where they explain some of their decisions.

I think this was a great first step, but if you’re gonna jump on the bandwagon, make sure you don’t miss and land on the hitch.

cat

Further, really understand what purpose this bandwagon has. If you’re going to free your data, free it! Let people and news organizations use it (always with a link back) for all kinds of crazy things. Remember kids, sharing is caring!

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Journalism job trends

Ever since I made my relationship with journalism official – I finally committed on paper as a junior in college – I’ve been trolling JournalismJobs.com. That obsession only grew when I graduated 2 months ago.

I keep an eye out for opportunities for myself and people I know, but also for trends: what skills are wanted, what kinds of jobs are open, where papers are hiring.

The first two things I noticed were that the average years of experience desired had gone up, and there were more upper-echelon jobs open. Years of experience went from 2-3 to 5-and-up over the past year or so. Just out of college, that’s not good news for me. I also see a lot more ____ Editor jobs – not counting the ubiquitous “Web” or “online” editor position (usually a cut-and-paste job!) – and sports writing positions. Why are there so many sports positions open when that’s one of the most popular beats in the newsroom?

More interesting than the job titles are the job descriptions. Lists of skills and vague descriptions of expected duties tell us almost as much about the state of journalism as the recent spate of layoffs.

My favorite job description is the search for “computer jesus”. These are the job descriptions that list 100 programming languages plus multimedia skills. Yea, right. Am I running the entire news site and producing content all by myself?

Then there’s the “we don’t know what we want you to do but we’re supposed to hire an online person” job description. This one, from The Times-News in Idaho, actually made me want to cry:

Must have visual design skills and be knowledgeable on Internet concepts and the latest developments on the Web. Must be proficient in PHP, HTML, Javascript, XML, Macromedia Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Writing skills are a plus. (emphasis added)

Writing skills are a plus? Are you serious? Hiring a journalist – you’re doing it wrong.

I realize that a lot of these are written by people who really don’t know enough to narrow down what they want. And I’m not trying to put those people down. But between this post on putting together a Web team and this one on journalism job salaries, I thought there was a place for a little something on the chaotic state of journalism job descriptions.

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IRE Conference – Day 2

This morning I met with my IRE mentor, Steve Doig, who is a CAR teacher at the University of Arizona. We talked about some of the work I’d done, people in the industry to learn from, and ways to stay on top of projects at different newspapers.

I love mentorship programs because I get a basically captive audience for my pro-online and data visualization ranting. I guess it’s also a networking shortcut.

I spent a frustrating hour and a half tracking down an internet connection so I could clear out the ::gasp:: 1000+ items that have accumulated in Google Reader after 3 days of neglect.

Then I went to a session called Cutting Edge Digital Journalism from Around the World.

The session was led by Rosental Alves, University of Texas; Sandra Crucianelli, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; and Fernando Rodriguez, Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism.

One of the things that surprised me was the idea that in Central/South America, CAR/investigative reporting/databases are viewed as “as a gringo thing.”

Rodriguez showed off a database he worked on of politicians in Brazil, called “25,000 politicians and their personal assets.” Politicians have to submit a certain amount of information in order to run for office, including a listing of assets. It took 2 years to track down all this information because the records were not organized and were available only in hard format. Eventually, the database could provide a view of who the politicians were.

The database was published online and stories were written for the newspaper (Folha) as well. Readers started to call in and report inconsistencies. Other newspapers started to use the database for their own stories.

Crucianelli presented a way to monitor government documents online in 4 different countries. (El Salvador, Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua) All 4 countries had recently changed their access laws for public information.

She found that Panama had the best online access to government documents. El Salvador had the worst access.

At noon, Matt Waite presented PolitiFact. Sexy, sexy Politifact. He gave a tour of all the features of the site as well as showing us a little of the back-end: the Django admin setup.

I followed Matt and Aron to a session with Knight grant winner David Cohn, talking about Spot.Us.

Spot.Us is supposed to be an answer to the question: How will we fund reporting that keeps communities informed?

The answer is based on the premise of citizen journalism. Writing is not the only means of participation.

On Spot.Us, anyone can create a story idea. Reporters can pitch stories based on contributed ideas to their communities. People in the community commit money for pitches. Then the reporters cover the stories. Some of the money goes to pay editors. The stories can be republished for free or published exclusively if the original donor is refunded.

And that’s it for me today. I’ll be in for some afternoon sessions tomorrow.

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Berlin – winding down

All of our works for this class was due today. After turning it in, Andrew Stanfill and I went in search of a gallery belonging to the artist from Rost Graphics. We each bought a large print, and then a medium-sized print of the Berlin wall. Nice work.

We also found an army surplus store, where I was able to find a jacket for Jon, and somehow ended up with one for myself.

This evening I’m planning on another shopping trip to Alexanderplatz, and fresh Chinese food for dinner.

Tomorrow is the last day in Berlin. I leave Thursday morning at around 6 a.m.