Megan Taylor

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

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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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Google will tell you when you’re going to get sick

I hate flu season.

Mostly because everyone around me gets sick and depressed and my well-meaning parents nag me to get a shot I don’t have time to wander around looking for.

Somehow, despite not getting a flu shot since sometime in middle school, I haven’t had the flu in years. The last time I got it, I was ridiculously sick for 24 hours, and then I was just fine. I <3 my immune system. But for those of you who do get sick, Google has a new toy for you. (If ever I were going to be a fangirl, it would be for Google.)

Using the existing Google Trends, Google Flu Trends predicts flu activity based on search terms.

From their about page:

Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer. You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Trends. But can search query trends provide an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

But my favorite part is this: You can download the raw data being used to generate all those nifty charts and maps.

Now, someone please tell me they’ve downloaded that data and are turning it into a swoon-worthy app for their news website?

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I didn’t take a copy of the fake NY Times

As I got off the train at Penn Station Tuesday morning, still drowsy from the 1 hour commute, I heard “Free copies of the NY Times!” coming loudly from somewhere behind my left ear. I kept walking.

Two blocks later I caught a glimpse of the front page of the paper carried by the large, dark trenchcoat in front of me. Wait a second!

What I saw was this:

Naturally, as soon as I got to the office I did some Google searches. It took another 15 minutes for the first blog posts to hit.

Apparently a group of pranksters called The Yes Men recruited volunteers to pass out these FAKE papers!

Gawker has a great peice on the subject, and The New York Times takes it in stride.

Check out the Web edition and PDF files. Too bad they didn’t produce any multimedia.

That’ll teach me to ignore the word “Free.”

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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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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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Spot.us FB group and updates

I recently joined the Spot.us group on Facebook. I’ve met David Cohn and heard him talk about Spot.us as well as following his blog for quite some time now. His idea is intriguing, and I’ve been pretty excited to see how things might work out for him.

From his message to the group, here are three successfully funded stories:

The first example of Community Funded Reporting came from a fantastic reporter Alexis Madrigal who examined the infrastructure of ethanol in the state of California. I feel confident that it is the most exhaustive look at the subject to date.

The second example is ongoing: The SF Election Truthiness Campaign. We raised $2,500 from 74 small donations (average $33) to fact-check political advertisements for the upcoming SF Election.
Just today PBS’ MediaShift blog wrote about it.

Our most recent success story is underway right now: Chris Amico will look into the environmental concerns of cement kilns in the Bay Area.

Sounds like things are going really well for David so far, (congrats!) and I hope to see the project grow and even expand to other areas!

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TNTJ September: If you were the editor of your local paper, what would you do?

Here’s the first response this month:

TNTJ: Review of The Journal and Courier Web site | By Daniel Victor.

VERDICT: I give it a B-. If your priority is to quickly scan and access the news of the day, this site does it better than most out there.

What it lacks, though, is the kind of innovation that will push the newspaper’s brand forward. It has to better package its Web-only content and show why the site can become more than a place to stop for news.

I think it’s interesting that the question was interpreted as “critique the Web site.”

I work for my local paper and am moving soon, so unless someone else is willing to switch with me as Daniel and Meranda did, I’m staying out of this one.

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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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After the staff cuts…Miami Herald edition

Miami Herald ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos asked readers “what content the paper should emphasize in an era of staff cuts.”

Yesterday the Herald published selected responses.

Some of my favorites:

The Miami Herald has almost no local content. The paper gets my highest marks for its recent excellent coverage of housing, public transportation and other major issues. I continue to subscribe because of The Herald’s investigative journalism. But there has been almost no coverage of Hallandale where I live and work, nor of many other cities in South Florida.

I realize that my website, Business Buzz, is all about covering an old-fashioned beat — in this case, chambers of commerce meetings. But I actually get out of the office and go to meetings, and talk to a lot of people. The Herald should be covering these meetings — they are your advertisers and potential advertisers.

I’d love to see the company save all the fluff, like that awful People Page or the 5-Minute Herald, for its online version. Just give us the news.

In a community as diverse as the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, there are many ethnic groups, but The Herald continues to be too Cuba-centric. If you want to develop a future readership, then start appealing more to the other groups. These include Jamaicans, Haitians, Central Americans, Colombians, Venezuelans, other South Americans and the white middle class that continues to move into the area.

These are things I’ve been hearing about the Herald since before I cared about journalism or the news.

One of the good things is that a lot of the responses mentioned in-depth investigative stories. These can be the hardest to do under budget and staff cuts, but they are also the best stories.

I should also note that only 2 or 3 of the published responses mentioned the Web site. What does that mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe the sample is bad. Maybe I should go find Mr. Schumacher-Matos and ask to dig through all ~175 responses.