Megan Taylor

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

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Why I am the Future of Journalism

I submitted this for my entry to Publish2’s “I Am the Future of Journalism” Contest:

I have the will and the adaptability to be the future of journalism.

It’s not that I know how to write stories, use a video camera and write code.

Those are secondary qualities.

I am passionate about news. Passionate enough to learn new skills, to experiment with technology, to challenge myself to tell stories in multiple dimensions.

The power of news is change. It’s a cliche, but knowledge really is power, and journalists are the disseminators of information.

In journalism school they say “Show, don’t tell.” Somewhat ironically, print stories are limited in this capacity. Radio and television are better at showing.

But the mediums are merging. The buzzword is “convergence,” but what it means is that the media is catching up with technology.

A story is no longer a block of text. It is more than the sum of it’s parts; it includes video, links, databases, infographics and audio. A story is an experience. And when forced to acknowledge wrongness on such a level, how can people but work to change it?

Journalism makes an idealist out of me.

I’ve worked in a cramped college newsroom and a spacious metro daily. But the job was the same: What is the best way to make this information meaningful?

To that end, I’ve used Flash, Twitter, maps, video, podcasts. I’m learning more programming languages, exploring social media and experimenting with the possibilities introduced by the Internet.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist in the early 20th century, said “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” The more tools we have, the better our stories become, because there isn’t just one way to do it.

I’m going to need a ginormous toolbox.

I don’t dream of working in a smoke-filled newsroom, surrounded by press hats and old coffee. I dream of the day when the world is my newsroom. I’ll work from the streets or my living room, and the physical state of the newsroom will be a server.

I AM THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM CONTEST.  Rate my entry!

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Mobile News: Problems, Examples, & Real World Use

(Note: I wrote this a few months ago and forgot about it. I found it while cleaning off my hard drive today. Oops!)

I got a Blackberry Pearl about a year ago, and while I have access to Google Reader and Twitter, (my main sources of news) I just haven’t gotten out of the habit of reading off the larger screen of my laptop.

Many media outlets are pursuing the possibilities of mobile news, having learned from their mistake with the Internet. As mobile phones get more advanced and more people use them, there is an opportunity to capture an audience.

Problems

One issue to address when setting out to get news on mobile phones is the variation in technologies used by different phones. Many phones can play video or view websites. All phones can receive text messages, but that can be costly to the user.

Viewing websites on a non-iPhone is a ghastly business. Tiny screens, poor rendering of CSS, graphic-heavy or Flash-based websites, they all make information harder to get at. One solution here is to create a mobile stylesheet that the phone browser will detect.

Another problem is content. Just as people don’t read off a computer screen the way they read a print product, no one wants to read a lengthy feature article on a 2-inch screen.

What kind of content might one want to see on a phone?

Weather and traffic alerts, events, and big, huge, breaking news. Seriously, the feature article can wait till I get home. But if a criminal is running around my neighborhood with a gun, I’d like to know, ASAP.

What about multimedia? I don’t see myself using my phone to go through a complex multimedia package. A video or slideshow, maybe, if I’m really interested. But phones are about “right now” communication. That should be reflected in how news companies approach them.

It may be that the only real solution for phones is better phone software. It doesn’t have to be iPhone quality, but the ability to add “news” to your basic menu would change everything. You could do any kind of feed you want then, while not having to go three steps in just to open a browser.

Examples

The Associated Press launched the Mobile News Network. The view on a phone is pretty nice, with a top news home screen, categorized story feeds (you can pick the general topics, and a “saved” category for custom searches). You can set preferences for location and the types of news you want to see. They also do video pretty well, providing various formats. They have applications for Blackberry/iPhone/iPod Touch users.

CNN’s mobile offerings include a Java application, SMS alerts, live TV (for certain providers), and downloadable videos.


The BBC actually explains
how they set up several different versions of their mobile site and let your browser choose the best one.

The New York Times offers a mobile site where you can read the NYT blogs, see most e-mailed articles, get alerts for topics or keywords, and browse real estate listings, stocks and weather forecasts. You can also choose to have news sent to your phone via text message. Customers of certain providers can also get access to crossword puzzles.

Fox News provides live video, streaming video clips, the requisite mobile site, and text alerts. Something a little different: they also offer an audio version of FNC, for a monthly fee.

Real World Use

The people most likely to have a compulsion to check the news every few hours, no matter where they are, are journalists. So I rounded up a few and asked about their mobile news habits.

Greg Linch sent me an e-mail after I asked for responses on Twitter.

I check Gmail on my smart phone (an AT&T Tilt), where I might have a New York Times, Washington Post or Miami Herald breaking news e-mail. After checking Gmail, I look at Twitter for other news and any interesting conversations. I also get Miami Herald breaking news text alerts, which include big national and local news.

If I’m away from the computer for an extended period of time — or if I’m bored somewhere — I’ll check Google Reader on my phone. If I just want a quick peek at the latest headlines, I’ll go to the mobile version of a site such as CNN, NYT or the Herald.

Kyle Mitchell is a music writer. He carries an iPod Touch. In an IM conversation, Kyle told me about his news habits.

NYT is one that keeps going down all the time. AP Mobile News is absolutely fantastic: runs fast as hell and top news never contains any bullshit like celebrity news. I check that a few times a day. Google News has a similar setup, but it’s much more clunky.

Brett Roegiers associate producer at CNN.com said

On my phone, I consume the news via Google Reader and Twitter.

Brett volunteered some advice to media outlets:

I’ll tell you what news organizations should pay attention to: location-based web apps. I click ‘restaurants’ or ‘bars’ and it shows me what’s in my area without me having to input where I am. I guess I’d say try to take advantage of the platform in some way and not just show the latest headlines.


Lyndsey Lewis
has an older Nokia, but checks the news on her iPod Touch.

I don’t use my phone, because I have a shitty Nokia phone and it’s hard to read stuff on it. But, I also own an iPod Touch, which I bring with me everywhere and use for news. I have the New York Times app on it and use that almost every day.

So what applications are you using to get the news on your phone? What do you think media outlets should be doing to get people’s attention? What can manufacturers do to make phones easier to use in this context?

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TNTJ December: Online Branding

This month, the topic for Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists is

How have you built your personal brand and marketed yourself online? Have your efforts been effective? If so, please give some examples.

I wrote Self-marketing for social caterpillars describing both my branding efforts and the benefits of online branding for those of us who never learned to “work the room.”

What are you doing to market yourself online or maintain your personal brand?

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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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Blog Guidelines

Since I’ve decided to shed the SOJO identity, I decided to write the post I should have written 2+ years ago when I started blogging.

Editorial Guidelines

This is my blog, so I’ll write about whatever I want. Most times, that will mean something of interest in the realms of journalism, the media, or the Internet. But I reserve the right to deviate from those topics at will. Alternate topics could include my cats, life in New York City and movies/music my roommate exposes me to.

I will, however, promise to discuss all these topics in a reasonably intelligent manner.

I will not post negatively about any of my employers. I will not post content that has been declared “confidential” by any of my employers. I might remove content that my employers ask me to take down, on a case by case basis.

My views as written here do not reflect those of my employers. On the other hand, they are free to agree with me.

Commenting Policy

I’m a big fan of open commenting. But no spam filter is perfect, so I’ll remove any comment that I perceive as spam.

I’d prefer you not attack any of my employers in the comments, though you may feel free to ridicule me to your heart’s content. I’m a tough broad.

If you commented with something interesting or useful, I’ll probably respond. If I don’t, either your comment was silly or I just didn’t have anything to say. Take it as you will.

My personal contact information is plastered all over this site, so please feel free to e-mail me with anything you don’t think is appropriate for comments, including job offers.

Social Media

I use the handle “selfmadepsyche” across most of the social media sites I frequent. (Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Flickr…)

My comments on some of these sites will usually be less formal than on my blog. Feel free to contact me on any of these sites.

Conclusion

Mix two parts “my blog is having an identity crisis” to one part mild distaste for rules and you get an approximation of why this was written with so much snark. Add a dash of salt, and take it with the good humor with which it was meant.

I love this space, and I’m still trying to figure out how it should change as I go through changes in my own life. I want to share the things I experience and learn with people who are interested in similar topics. I want to grow as a writer, as a journalist and as a person. I’m hoping you’ll all help me with that.

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We Are the Media, This Is the Media

I read BuzzMachine, a blog by Jeff Jarvis, on a regular basis, and yesterday I also happened to listen to On the Media.

Jarvis was interviewed for On the Media regarding his decision that the word media, so long the bane of grammar students, is not plural but singular.

The folks at On the Media are sticking with tradition.

It occurred to me today that there are so many angles to the word media, it might as well be both. I have a background in linguistics, so I might approach this a little differently.

Let’s start with the definition of media:

1. a plural of medium

2. (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely

3. pertaining to or concerned with such means

OK, so if media are tools, and the tools are becoming a Leatherman Charge TTi (19 tools in one!), then it becomes singular.

We also use the word media to refer to the people holding the tools collectively: CNN, The New York Times, NPR. Singular or plural?

Jarvis would say it’s still singular. But I don’t think the lines have been erased that far yet, if they ever are. Even though everyone can participate online, not everyone does to the same degree. There are still the giants.

Companies now producing across various platforms. Across media. Plural.

Jarvis argues:

Today, still photographers shoot video with a still camera. Print reporters take pictures and make slide shows and shoot video. TV people write text. Magazine people make podcasts.

Yea, but those are still separate media. He gets closer when trying to qualify Twitter:

What is Twitter? A medium? A conversation? Both? Yes. So how does one
separate one medium from another? It’s impossible, I came to see.

So there are some platforms that are an indistinguishable mixture of media. Singular.

But you can still have each medium on it’s own. And sometimes they’re more powerful that way, depending on the subject. Plural.

Now I’m confusing myself.

I think it can be used both ways. And we’ll just have to figure out from context the intended meaning.

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I’m in the gray, working with public relations

I’ve been wanting to write a bit about what I’m doing and where I’m working, but had trouble figuring out how to approach the subject.

You see, I work for a PR company.

I can hear you all gasping. No, I have NOT crossed over to the “dark side.”

PR companies are scrambling like most other institutional businesses to figure out this whole “Internet thing.” My job as “Digital Media Intern” is to move Quinn & Co. forward by teaching how social media works. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, the whole kit and caboodle.

So I’ve been doing lots of research: what’s the best blogging platform for their purposes, how can the company and their clients build loyalty through Twitter and Facebook, how to monitor brands with Google Alerts, optimizing press releases and websites for search engines, and building lists of bloggers and micro-bloggers for Real Estate, Travel and Food, Wine & Spirits.

I’ve also been doing some multimedia work: a video from a media panel, working on an interactive email design.

All of which is very helpful in getting to my goal.

I want to work in news. No question. I don’t care if it’s a newspaper, magazine, radio station, because when you get to the website, it’s all the same.

Ultimately, news outlets have to learn the kinds of things I’m learning now. How do you build niche audiences online? How do you manage an online community? And so on.

While my true love is reporting through multimedia (including data), this is fun, too. I’ve never liked the black hat/white hat metaphor, so I’m working in shades of gray.

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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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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.

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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.