Megan Taylor

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

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Who is Twitter for?

twitterclouds Commenter Dkzody responded to my presentation for the Bronx Youth Journalism initiative with this tidbit about her high school students:

My students do not like twitter because they see it as a tool for old people. They text all the time and see no need to be limited to 140 characters. They also think it’s just people talking about what they are doing at the moment. I have to laugh because that is what they are doing when texting.

Twitter vs Txt

Twitter allows people to send short messages to other people via web app, phone. Text messages allow people to send short messages to other people via phone (and sometimes web app).

The major difference is that with Twitter one is usually broadcasting to many people, whereas text messages are often personal and directed toward one person.

Is that the aspect of Twitter that these students object to? Or is the usefulness curve for Twitter just too high?

Why Not Twitter?

The usefulness curve on Twitter is pretty darn steep. You have to sign up, find some people to follow, search for interests, follow more people, and just sort of leave it running in the background for a while before it begins to make sense.

No wonder Nielsen Online reports

Apparently more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month and pre-Oprah more than 70 percent of Twitter users failed to return to the site.

I know a lot of people who still say “Twitter is stupid, it’s just Facebook status updates.” Well, if Facebook status updates were this good, I wouldn’t need Twitter, now would I?

Perception

I don’t know how many of Dkzody’s students have actually tried Twitter. But I do know that a lot of negative opinions about Twitter come from perception.

Is Twitter a micro-blogging service? Is Twitter a social network? Is Twitter just Facebook updates? Why am I telling Twitter what I’m doing?

I have trouble answering the questions I get from people who don’t understand the utility of Twitter, because Twitter is what you make it for yourself. For me, it’s all of the above, and more.

About this perception that Twitter is for old people…what do you make of that?

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The future of journalism in your pocket

A few days ago Mindy McAdams wrote a post about how she uses her iPhone and what that could mean for journalism.

Her questions for journalism:

  • If someone has all the videos and quality radio news she could ever find time to listen to (or watch) right in her pocket, how can anything even remotely like the newspaper compete with that? The newspaper as it was, in the heyday of the 30 percent profit margins, had something for everyone. Now the Internet-enabled phone provides that.
  • Will the traditional print news organization come up with programming, instead of random and disconnected stories? I don’t mean it has to be audio and video, but it would be something with an identity, like a show or a series. The closest thing I can think of that’s not radio is David Pogue — a brand unto himself.
  • Breaking news is a commodity — you’ll never pay the bills with that. Hard news is not always breaking news, but how should it be packaged or bundled — to adapt to the phone?

I’m not sure mobile phones have quite reached the level of “world in my pocket,” (speed, coverage, screen/keyboard sizes are still issues) but that’s not the point. If we [media organizations] sat around until the right phones were created, we’d be in even deeper poo than we already are. Realize right now that everyone will soon have an Internet-enabled phone (or similar pocket device) and the technology will keep pace with the demand.

Will the traditional print news organization come up with programming…?

Do traditional print news orgs still exist? Don’t they all have Web sites now? Aren’t they all scrabbling to save themselves online?

We’re not at the beginning of the news revolution anymore. We’re in the middle, and the organizations that have made it this far are very different from what they were 10 years ago. The ones that make it through will be the ones who drop this “traditional print news organization” concept and think about what people are reading, watching, hearing, buying, doing, playing…

Hard news is not always breaking news, but how should it be packaged or bundled — to adapt to the phone?

packages

Mindy suggests that a packaged identities can be a part of this and I agree. After all, isn’t that what we’re doing by building personal brands and using social media? Isn’t that why you follow someone on Twitter or Facebook? Why you subscribe to a blogger’s RSS feed?

I hadn’t thought of this before, because I’ve been thinking more technically about how information can be packaged for multiple mediums.

But what if we break the media company identity down into a series of smaller, bite-sized packages?

Company branding is already being broken down to the individual level. Personal branding is all the rage. Will news packages be branded to the individual? Or be yet another subset of the company branding? Or will the individual brand dominate the other two?

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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.

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MediaShift Innovation Spotlight: ChangeTracker, plus hiatus

mediashift_spotlightThis week I wrote my last Spotlight article for a while. Hopefully I’ll get to start them up again sometime down the road, but for now, sayonara.

My last Spotlight is ProPublica’s ChangeTracker, created by new intern Brian Boyer.

ChangeTracker is a project at ProPublica that watches three government websites — Whitehouse.gov, Recovery.gov and Financialstability.gov — for edits, deletions or changes to existing content. Through an RSS feed, Twitter account or daily email digest, ChangeTracker will inform you when a page changes on these sites, and show you what’s been added or removed.

ChangeTracker is yet another example of a trend I’ve noticed in newer journalism projects. Rather than building a single thing, some journalists are building tools that can be used over and over, in different ways, to produce information and tell stories.

It’s an important concept, given the restrictions and limited resources available to journalists whose publications are struggling. I hope to see a lot more work like this.

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2 Journalism Projects About People

One of the many reasons I use Twitter: finding out about what projects journalists are developing and launching.

Yesterday I saw two such posts:

and

1. Tampa Bay Mug Shots, also known to some as “Facebook for underachievers” is a simple and fun glance at booking data in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. A carousel of mug shots is accompanied by some basic crime data and arrest records.

The information presented here as a public service is gathered from open county sheriff’s Web sites in the Tampa Bay area. The booking mug shots and related information are from arrest records in the order and at the time the data was collected. Those appearing here have not been convicted of the arrest charge and are presumed innocent. Do not rely on this site to determine any person’s actual criminal record.

2. The Miami Herald’s 60 Seconds is actually a relaunch/update of an older project, and I worked with Stephanie Rosenblatt on the Flash video player during my internship at The Herald. There are 10 new videos in this series about South Florida characters.

I know that in some circles, this type of journalism may be looked down upon. No evils or corruptions exposed, no event described, no protesters sprayed with pepper spray.

But I see it as an example of what journalism should do more of: exposing a community to itself. In both cases, the profiles are of people who live or work in these communities. Just because it’s also entertaining (’cause I firmly believe that the funniest thing about any person is their mugshot) doesn’t mean it’s not useful and informative. Stories are still being told.

index

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Journalism discussions: Moving right along

Over at Mindy McAdams’ Teaching Online Journalism, a list is being compiled of the most annoying journalism discussions.

So far (from the post on Alexandre Gamela’s series):

1. Is Twitter Journalism?
2. Death of the Blogosphere
3. Citizen Journalism
4. Bloggers vs. Journalists
5. The Death of Newspapers

My additions (in the comments):

6. Paywalls
7. It’s Google’s Fault
8. Linking
9. Comments

Others (in the comments):

7.5. Google should pay restitution for driving traffic to my news site

10. “X is not journalism!” and “Journalism is not Y!”

I think these conversations pop up every few months, though I haven’t kept track of who is having them. Is it the same people over and over? Or, do different people encounter the same questions as the printies move online? Can we build an F.A.Q. for newbies, listing the different points to each argument?

Having the same conversation over and over again does not progress make. We need to move beyond these questions and find new ones.

Some new questions:

How can we support journalism? Do organizations need to turn non-profit? Or get their work funded by the community? What online advertising models are being used and are they effective? How can news organizations collaborate?

Got more discussions you hate? More questions that need answers? Leave them in the comments!

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Obamania

I’m confused. I feel out of the loop.

I get that Obama is the first black president.

I get that he represents a new era in our history.

I get that he represents changes that a lot of people want to see.

I get that his use of social media and technology during his campaign implies some very cool things during his presidency.

But why is everyone going apes**t!?

Why do I keep seeing articles about what the Obamas ate for lunch, or the kids’ first day at school or his physical appeal?

Why did a whole bunch of people stand around in the freezing cold to listen to other people talk, and musicians with numb hands try to play?

Why are there iPhone applications devoted to this man and his inauguration?

I remember Bush’s inauguration as a bad day, because my family disagrees with his beliefs and policies. I don’t remember Clinton’s. And before that, I wasn’t paying attention to anything other than my skinned knees.

But I’ve asked around, and no other inauguration has been compared to Woodstock.

I really don’t get it. Do you?

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Vote for the change you want to see

The Ideas for Change in America competition is winding down, with today being the last day for voting.

The top 10 ideas will be presented to the Obama administration on Friday.

You can vote for 10 ideas

From the site:

The Ideas for Change in America competition was created in response to Barack Obama’s call for increased citizen involvement in government. The final round of voting began on January 5 and is comprised of the top 3 rated ideas from each of the 30 issues in the first round of the competition, which collectively received more than 250,000 votes.

The top 10 rated ideas from the final round will be presented to the Obama administration on January 16th at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, co-hosted by the Case Foundation. At the event we will also announce the launch of a national advocacy campaign behind each idea in collaboration with our nonprofit partners to turn each idea into actual policy.

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News Web site user interfaces

Patrick Thornton wrote about user interfaces today, and how news Web sites are so loath to move away from an interface that mimicks the print product.

The last time I visited a news Web site, I was an employee of the paper working on code changes. I’m not counting clicking through to articles, but deliberately going to the home page of a site.

So Where Do I Get News?

I get my news from a couple of sources:

  • Google Reader, where I’m subscribed to over 400 blogs and news sites (including a personalized version of Google News), in addition to recieving shared content from all my friends
  • Twitter, where I follow over 400 users, mostly journalists
  • The AP Mobile News application on my phone. Great for the long commute to work.

Why Don’t I Go To News Sites?

Because they don’t give me what I want. Because I prefer serendipity.

I’m interested in a lot of things and a lot of places and a lot of people. There isn’t one place where I can get all the information I want. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to spend all day bouncing from site to site, hoping someone wrote or produced something I care about.

The other reason is this: A lot of people complain about the Internet being an echo chamber. To some degree, this sucks. I have to scroll through a bunch of work that is the same concept iterated over and over.

But, since I don’t visit news sites, I also don’t see the hierarchy that editors and readers have placed on certain stories. The echo chamber mitigates this problem for me, because I can gurantee that if something is important (or even important only to a certain group of people…people I chose to follow because I care about what’s important to them…) I’ll see it at least 5 times in Google Reader and another 20 on Twitter.

Is a different UI (user interface) really going to change my behavior? I’ll still have to visit multiple sites. The river of news (a la Facebook or Twitter) can get really annoying when I’m looking for something specific. For me, that only works seredipitously. And those cool mapping UI are just cluttery and hard to focus on. To be honest, if I’m looking for articles on a specific topic, I’ll just do a Google search.

Thornton is right, though: news Web sites need to stop emulating print. But they need to do it in a way that actually helps the users. We’ve learned certain behaviors when looking for content online. There are rules that we expect Web sites to follow, and when those are bent too much, we get frustrated. Not good for news sites.

So the question is, without breaking basic UI rules or being gimmicky, how should news sites be designed differently?

Edit: Check out the comments for a discussion between Aron Pilhofer and myself about user interface vs. user interaction.

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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.