Megan Taylor

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

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Convergence and Newsroom Structure

So for the first session of the day, I ended up at a discussion on operating a converged student media newsroom. I can’t really relate; The Independent Florida Alligator, being separate from the university, can’t take advantage of all the available tools and skills at UF. But the ideas from the converged model applied to our print and web publications could make things work much more smoothly and allow us to go farther.

Greg Linch and I got video, using UStream.tv

Now I’m at a discussion of newsroom structure, facilitated by Bryan Murley. We’ve been talking about who takes responsibility for what and how work is distributed through roles in the newsroom.

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Today’s Next Newsroom Unconference

The sessions for this morning:

Session 1
1. What are the keys to successfully operating a converged newsroom, especially for student media?
Facilitators: Brett Erickson, Kathy Stofer, Sharon Brooks
2. How can design of space promote innovation in the newsroom?
Facilitator: John Keefe
3. What productivity tools can transform the newsroom?
Facilitator: Christian Oliver
4. What is the role of social networking in the newsroom?
Facilitator: Kara Andrade

I want to go to all of them!

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Applied Interactive Newspapers

The online capstone course, Applied Interactive Newspapers, is built to work like an internship.

There are 6 students in the class this semester. Each of us is responsible for pulling in 7 stories each week, from The New York Times or AP wire.

These stories are published on Newszine, the Interactive Media Lab’s news Web site.

Recently, in addition to the 7 stories, we were assigned a multimedia requirement. Each week, 2 Soundslides and 2 videos will be published to the site along with our stories, with labor divided among the staff.

It was my turn to do a video this week. I chose to do a video tutorial for using Soundslides. I wrote out my script and talked to my partner, Matt Gonzalez, about the shots. We set the camera up and also set the editing computer up for screen-casting.

Then I did my thing. I’m not particularly pleased with the outcome. I get massive stage fright as soon as the camera’s watching, even though I’m only on the screen for a few seconds.

But I learned a lot from this. I should have run through my actions a few times before I did it for the camera. It also could have done with a little more editing.

In any case, I’m learning a lot about video and editing, so by the time I graduate I should be pretty good at this.

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SNDBoston: The Future is Now

with Nick Bilton and Michael Rogers from the New York Times R&D team.
R&D: Engineers look ahead (18 months to 5 years) for new technological advances. R&D is a state of mind and a commitment of resources.
“I always wear a tie because with a title like ‘futurist’ you need all the credibility you can get.”

How will content be delivered?
– Paper is hard to compete with as a display device.
– E-Ink: flexible, long battery life, no energy to display page, can hold 180 books, only black and white
– Polymer vision: about the size of a cell phone, updates wirelessly
– OLED: OLED screen is vibrant, great with color
– Google vision

The next audience: Millennials
Fears: a) no interest in news, b) no interest in paper
Were you seriously following the news at age 17? College students read campus news on paper: its still convenient.
Millennials have no habits that revolve around news. They have mobile phones!

Wireless everywhere!
– WIFI: laptops shipped with it
– 3G
– WIMAX: wifi on steroids, global standard

Devices?
Laptops will get smaller, smartphones get better, until they merge. Times Reader: Windows-only right now. Navigate, resize, edit and annotate text, send annotations to others. Lays itself out to fit size of screen.

Print to Mobile
– Reefers
– Interact with paper via text messages
– 2d barcodes for cellphones to Web site
– shifd.com: communication between phone and TV, phone and computer

Devices are becoming more aware of our location and the content we seek. More and more data comes in automagically tagged with extra info (Geotagging).
How do we create new value out of existing content without expending human effort? (Algorithms, Google Earth!)

Virtual News Delivery: SecondLife

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Semester Update

Well, we’re a month into the semester now, and I’ve got a good grip on what each of my classes is trying to teach me.

Intro to Photographic Journalism is going very well. I still have to remind myself what settings (white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture) to mess with in order to make the photos come out as I imagine them, but my focus and composition are improving.

We have an interesting case study assignment for Ethics, otherwise the class is much like a philosophy course. I wish the class was smaller, say 15 people instead of 80-something. A good friend of mine is a philosophy major with a special interest in ethics, so I’m looking forward to some juicy discussions.

Reporting and Writing for the Web is giving me trouble in terms of the format and content of the course. Our first project is to do a Soundslides package, which while important for the students in the class with no previous multimedia experience to learn, is hard for me to sit still for after building an audio slide show in Flash by hand when I took Advanced Online Media Production. The end result of our work this semester is to create one big package.

Finally, Advanced Interactive Media Reporting is the most confusing and frustrating course, although it has gotten much better. Some of the students feel that the course should be teaching specific skills, as opposed to working towards a product: a converged newsroom. We’ve gone back and forth and around and around for the last few weeks, but I believe we have gotten past some of that.

I’m feeling fairly confident in my skill set as a result of the classes I’ve been taking. My weak spot right now is video, and I know absolutely nothing about databases. But these should be corrected before I graduate in the Spring. I’m looking forward to deciding which aspect of online journalism I really want to focus on.

I love lists. They give me direction, options, and when completed, a sense of accomplishment.

Bryan Murley recently reposted his checklist of things college media sites should consider. Of course my first thought was to see how my own college media outlet is doing:

* Have you got your news org. online?

The Alligator has been online for a while, although until recently the site left much to be desired.

* Do you have a content management system?

We just launched the new Alligator site with a content management system and a new design. Yay!

* Have you posted any videos online?

Yes we have. In fact, on Thursday two reporters handed me video – a first!

* Have you included any audio soundbites in a story?

I have the soundbites on my computer…they just haven’t made it to the correct format for the Web site yet.

* Have you done a photo slideshow?

Yes, several.

* Have you put up an audio slideshow (perhaps using Soundslides)?

Yes.

* Have you done a map?

Yes.

* Have you used weblogs on your site?

Like the soundbites, this is in the works.

* Have you uploaded source documents (PDFs, excel spreadsheets, etc.) to accompany a big story?

YES! Even on the old site, documents were often uploaded when provided by the reporters.

* Have you used social media (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube) to market your stories?

There is an Alligator Facebook group, and individual articles on the new site now feature sharing tools.

* Have you tracked what others are saying about you via Technorati or Google Blogsearch?

Nope.

* Have you used the web site to post breaking news online FIRST?

Still trying to figure this one out. We have put a couple f breaking sports stories up before they went to print though.

* Have you moved the online editor out of the back office and into a position of authority?

Well, I guess we kind of moved ourselves out of the back office.

* Have you allowed comments on your stories?

Yes. I have been pleasantly surprised with the intelligence of many of the comments posted to the site. We decided not to review comments and to remove them only if a complaint was lodged, or if we saw a “flame war” starting up.

* Have you encouraged writers to write for the Web and include hyperlinks in their stories?

I’m hoping this will go hand-in-hand with blogging. Right now, when we are putting up new stories, if we see an opportunity for a link, it goes in.

* Have you tried something experimental?

We’ve got a few projects in the works, but right now energy is tied up in making the workflow efficient and working the kinks out of the new site.

So far, I think we’re doing pretty good! Of course, in this case, the “checklist” is never really completed. But I’ll be happy if I can get out of the office by 1:30 a.m. every night instead of 3 a.m.

Journalism students at UF whisper “reporting” and “Foley” in fear. It is supposed to be the hardest class in the curriculum, but the same is said of many classes.

I made the mistake of overloading myself the semester I took reporting. I never believe people when they say a class is hard. My classes have always been as easy as the teacher was engaging. With 15 credits and a part-time job, between Mike Foley and Ted Spiker, the class wasn’t hard, just time consuming.

I remember the first article I got back. 0 points. I started cracking up. And then buckling down.

Reporting was about paying attention. Pay attention to what goes on around, what could turn into a story, what isn’t a story, what’s new and different and interesting. What do you focus on at an event, covering a speech, writing an obituary? I learned to dress nicer when I had to interview someone at school, to wheedle information out of secretaries and receptionists, and that no one at City Hall would call me back no matter how many messages I left.

Pay attention to your writing. It took me longer to proof-read an article than it did to report and write it. I got very paranoid, used different colored pens to circle punctuation, verbs, nouns… And it paid off.

I remember a few students deciding that they didn’t want to be journalists as a result of that class. The writing was too rigid, we could only write hard news, they were stuck in the world of Peter Parker and Hunter Thompson.

The purpose of reporting was to drill all of the rules deep into your mind, so that when you get into the real world, you know how to break them.

Classes in Review Series
Preview
Advanced Editing pt 1
Advanced Editing pt 2
Classes in Review: Advanced Editing pt3

I decided not to take a class for this second half of the summer, so that I can concentrate on my three jobs and 465 personal projects (like redesigning this Web site).

While I am appreciating the extra free time, I miss class. So I thought this would be a good time to write about some of the classes I’ve taken and what I got out of them.

I’ll write about Editing, Advanced Online Media Production, Applied Fact Finding and more, including some non-journalism courses that I think contributed to where I am today.

In the meantime, students, journalists and teachers: What was your favorite class in college and why?

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Hobnobbery

In every one of my classes, professors have asked how many students read or write blogs. I am always a little shocked by how few have explored the potential of blogs.

Few of my friends share my enthusiasm for multimedia journalism blogs. Those that do tend to share my habit of speaking of these journalist/bloggers as if I’ve meet them. It’s a habit that those outside of the blogosphere find strange.

On Tuesday, I got to meet a few of my heroes. After almost 12 hours of observing and chatting with Joe Weiss, Regina McCombs, and Chuck Fadely, I found that the gods are mortal.

They’re not super-geniuses looking down on the rest of j-land. They’re people who have been in the business long enough to understand what journalism needs and how to get it. We discussed the ways people get into journalism, the development of Soundslides, differences of taste in online video and gossiped about the goings-on at various newspapers.

Thank you all for hangin’ out. It’s great to put a face and a voice to the people I admire.

Edit: What I get for writing posts on the go: It was Monday, not Tuesday.

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(J)journalist/(P)programmer

Two recent events set off a discussion among the journalists whose blogs I read to the effect of: Do journalists need to be programmers?

Adrian Holovaty got a grant to go off and spend his days working on EveryBlock, and Northwestern University got a grant to provide scholarships to computer programmers who want to learn journalism.

Of course, this discussion has occurred in classrooms and newsrooms already, but this was the first explosion on the subject online. At the root, the problem is that in order to create great online content, SOMEONE in the newsroom needs to be able to work with databases (PHP), ActionScript (Flash), and CSS. But newspapers aren’t hiring, or programmers don’t get involved in journalism, or something occurs that prevents the newsroom from having access to someone who can write some code.

Here are some of the opinions that have appeared:

(A lot of people are differentiating between Programmers and programmers, Writers and writers. That’s why I use upper- and lower-cases differently.)

Matt Waite: In 2 separate posts, Matt explains the reasons newsrooms need programmers and who should/shouldn’t be learning it. His position is not that all journalists should learn to code, but that the people who have an interest in both writing and programming can bring more to the table. Ultimately, “Journalism needs all the innovators it can get.”

David Cohn: David, clearly on the side of journalists learning to code, asks where the scholarships are to teach journalists to program, and points out that the hot players in geek journalism are journalists turned coders, not the other way around.

Dan Gilmor: Journalists don’t need to learn to program, they need to learn how to work with programmers.

William Hartnett: “Journalists need to know programming. Not all of us, but some.” He differentiates between Programming and programming, and argues that some programming can be considered journalistic tasks, “clean up dirty personnel records from the school district or parse some messy addresses in crime data from the sheriff’s office.”

Scott Rosenberg: Scott supports the idea of journalists learning programming, but they don’t need to Program. More important, they need to understand the technology available for storytelling online.

Howard Owens: Howard is a journalist/programmer himself. But he recommends that journalists learn new skills that compliment their talents and individual situations. And these new skills should be applicable online. In a later update, Howard says the instead of all running off to learn to code, journalists should “figure out the niche your employer needs filled, and fill it.”

To me, online journalism encompasses all of the aspects of the Internet, be it code or multimedia. I’m not sure you can call yourself an Online Journalist if your Web page is all HTML tables and a few lines of PHP make you quiver like Jell-o. If you don’t feel comfortable writing code from scratch, you should at least be able to edit it.

I’m definitely in favor of a scholarship for journalist/programmers and programmer/journalists. I feel like some journalism students are afraid to learn code because it is associated with, or feels like, math. I’m no math genius, I never got past statistics, and the only math I’ve come across so far is adding up margins and padding in CSS and adding seconds for audio in ActionScript.

I may never be able to build anything as cool as chicagocrime.org. But I enjoy coding, in the same way that I enjoy writing. So scholarship or not, I’ll learn how to manipulate database information, build time lines and maps in Flash, and anything else that looks like a great way to spread information online.

Edit: Matt can’t seem to keep his site up and running, so you’ll have to search archives.org for his post.