Megan Taylor

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

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Newspaper curmudgeon talking points

This is amazing. Must memorize. Where did I hide my index cards?

• Comments are worthless vitriol and they degrade the work of journalists.

• Never link to your competitors, you’re just giving them traffic!

• Social media is a fad. Investing in it now will be a waste of time and money when it all goes bottom-up.

• A blog is not a tool for journalism, it is for people in robes writing about their cats.

• Citizen journalists suck. They’re biased! They have opinions and everything. Act like they own politics.

From:

The ultimate guide to newspaper curmudgeon talking points — Eat Sleep Publish.

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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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Internship: week the first

I gave my impressions from the first day or so of work, but a full (sort of) week has given me more time to get acquainted with my new job.

I’ve worked on several projects, thought none of them are quite ready to go live yet. I’ll link to them when they do. But so far the work has been pretty easy and well within my skills. I was surprised at how much Flash I remember, even though I haven’t touched the program in over a year.

I’m also working on a story for next week! I pitched this one myself, and while its nothing big, I’m happy to be writing. My greatest fear is being pigeonholed into the programming room.

I’m supposed to see about some database work in the next week or so, which will be something new to add to my arsenal. I know how databases work and how to work with them, but I’ve never actually built one.

On the side, I’m continuing to work through Django tutorials and plan on buying some books soon. I’m also in the market for a job after my internship is over.

I’ve got a couple of posts coming up that should be more stimulating, but I’ve been too busy to really organize my thoughts yet. Here’s hoping I can get one or two out next week.

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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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Writing from Berlin!

So, after having dropped off the face of the cyberearth for a few weeks, I’m resurfacing in Berlin. I’m taking a Photojournalism class with Professor Freeman and some other students from UF.

And by the way, yes, I did manage to graduate! It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m sure some day it will. My move to Miami was anything but graceful, but everyone involved survived.

So I’m in Berlin for 2 weeks, then back to Miami for my internship. I’ll start uploading photos tomorrow and blogging about my experiences here.

So far, I’ve managed to get from the airport to my hotel, find food and walk 3 miles. And realize that my German is even more atrocious than I thought. I can read pretty well, but forget the rest.

This city has more graffiti than any other place I’ve ever been. Some of it is even extremely artistic, as opposed to just scribbles on the wall. Unfortunately, I wasted most of the daylight hours recovering from bouncing from plane to plane for 15 hours, but tomorrow I’ll be out and about bright and early. (Could I get anymore cliches in there?)

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Gainesville Restaurant Inspections / CAR Independent Study

This is a three-part project I submitted for my Independent Study on Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Part One: The Story

Dirty cutlery, unswept floors and greasy-looking employees are good clues that sanitary food preparation isn’t necessarily a restaurant’s No. 1 priority.

But when you don’t have to leave the house or even pick up the phone to get a late night snack, what do you really know about the kitchen your food is coming from?

There are over 700 restaurants in Gainesville and about 90 of these provide online ordering through Web sites like GatorFood.com and ChompMenus.com.

But these sites don’t publish state inspection reports.

According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Division of Hotels and Restaurants does food service inspections 2-3 times a year. Violations can result in follow-up visits or temporary shut downs, depending on the severity.

The Division publishes inspection results on the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Web site and allows searches for specific businesses.

Roughly half of Gainesville’s eateries passed their last inspections with no warnings or follow-ups required. California Chicken Grill, Five Star Pizza, and Wing Zone, all of which allow online ordering, were among these.

In the past nine months, six restaurants were recommended for emergency closure: Wendy’s, Great Steak & Potatoe Co, Szechuan Panda, Sovereign Restaurant, China Super Buffet and Long John Silver’s. Of these, Szechuan Panda and China Super Buffet have online ordering.

China Super Buffet was shut down in July for 18 critical violations including roach activity and employees not washing their hands during food preparation. In October, the restaurant passed inspection with no violations.

Szechuan Panda was shut down nine times in 2007 with violations such as food stored on the floor, cigarette butts in the kitchen, and rodent activity. The most recent inspection, in March, resulted in a mandatory follow-up.

Forty-six restaurants were inspected within the last year after complaints were filed, among these were The Gelato Company and Las Margaritas. Both restaurants are listed on GatorFood.com and passed their inspections.

Alexis Antonacci, a representative from the Division of Hotels and Restaurants said the inspections are done randomly so the restaurants don’t know ahead of time.

Florida food inspections are not on a pass/fail system but rather require penalties based on the type and severity of violation.

There are 37 possible critical violations ranging from food protection to basic safety of the building.

Antonacci said that an administrative complaint of unacceptable critical violations can result in legal action against the restaurant.

“They can get a fine or continuing education or suspension,” Antonacci said. “Most often, it just requires a follow-up.”

104 restaurants in Gainesville received administrative complaints since June. Administrative complaints are logged by the inspectors for violations, while complaints are filed by consumers.

Of Szechuan Panda’s repeated closures she said that “repeated emergency closures are not typical, but inspectors are required to return within 24 hours to see if the problem has been eliminated.”

David Laiderman, a part-owner of ChompMenus, said that if restaurants are closed, then they are listed as closed for orders on the Web site.

“The restaurants call us and let us know when they’re closed,” he said.

Part Two: The Map

Gainesville Restaurant Inspections

gvilerestinspections A map of restaurant inspections a friend helped me with as part of my CAR Independent Study.

Part Three: How It Was Done

The first step for this assignment was to find a data set and story idea. After trying for several months to collect and study budget information for Florida state universities, this idea had to be set aside. Time elements, as well as the lack of organization of the data prevented this story from working out.

So I started looking at available data sets that would apply to Gainesville. I found that food inspection reports were available online and could be downloaded. The reports were provided as a .csv file with no column titles, so I had to find the key file and call up the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and have someone help me figure out how that whole thing worked. They were very kind and helpful, after a few false starts.

So at this point I had a huge file, with over 800 restaurants (some multiples with different locations) and what violations they got on various inspection dates.

Since my target publication is The Independent Florida Alligator, a college newspaper, I decided to narrow my field down a little. Gatorfood.com and Chompmenus.com allow online ordering for various restaurants. Which begs the question: If you never set foot in the restaurant, can you trust that your food is clean?

So I made a list of all the restaurants on those sites, and did searches for any other restaurants with Web sites for ordering online. This narrowed my data set to about 90 restaurants.

I sorted my data in several different ways to get a look at what restaurants were having inspection issues. I looked at critical and total number of violations, whether the reason for the inspection was routine or if a complaint had been filed, and what the result of the inspection was (did they have to shut down, or did they meet the standards?)

The big dataset I had didn’t provide too many details – just number of violations. But doing a search of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Web site would pull up detailed reports with notes included by the inspectors.

I had to look up definitions for some of the terminology and called the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for clarification and interviews. I also called the contact numbers from the Web sites.

Finally, I decided what information I wanted to include in my story: a sort of overview of how restaurant inspections in Gainesville are going, highlighting any really crazy things and trying to keep the focus mainly on restaurants on my smaller list.

For the multimedia portion of the project I built a map that displays the restaurants and some basic information from the inspection reports. A script parses the .csv file and geocodes the restaurant addresses, then spits out a .xml file which generates the markers on the map.

Skills: Python, XML, Excel, Google Maps API, Writing, Reporting

Medium: Web, Text

April 30, 2008 | Comments Off on Gainesville Restaurant Inspections / CAR Independent Study | Categories: Posts | Tags: , | Permalink

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Florida Democratic Party decides not to hold revote

Even though my journalistic experience leans toward the Web, I still got into this for the writing. As happens far too often to those with a feel for the online side of things, I got shuttled away from writing.

But today, after almost a year without writing anything more than a blog post or project proposal, I got to see my words in print. It’s a good feeling.

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Ducks go quack, quack, cows go moo

I don’t remember the rest of the song. But that’s what was playing in my head while I read Steve Klein’s “Revenge of the ‘Web People.'” He’s writing about definitions and how “print people” and “Web people” need to be just “journalists.”

Klein argues against the concept that “Web people” are somehow inferior to “print people.”

Online journalists must have all the skills of print and broadcast journalists, as well as digital production skills. They need a far more diverse skill set than journalists who work in vertical disciplines. They must have horizontal skill sets that they then practice on an online platform.
So, any hint that an online journalist is less capable or less qualified than a print or broadcast journalist is just plain wrong and unfair. It really ruffles my feathers (do ducks have feathers?)!

I recently found out that my position at The Alligator was created after a series of editors tried to do away with the Web site completely (in the early to mid-1990s). It apparently diverted important resources from the “real paper.” Think where we’d be now if they had taken the Web seriously!

Back to my point. One of the things that pisses me off the most about the gulf between print and online is how one-sided it seems to be. I read the paper. In both mediums. I care about the paper. In both mediums. I can write and edit just as well as I can create a Google map, edit audio, or design a Web site. I just happen to work in the online department because of the linear structure of the newsroom.

Don’t pigeonhole me just because I can do some things you don’t understand. I enjoy all of the aspects of being a journalist – from finding and reporting a story to producing a Web package. Let me learn all that I can, I’ll bet you learn a few things too.

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Less talk, more work

There’s a new trend in online journalism these days: Stop talking, and do it.

Stop trying to convert, stop making lists, stop fighting the print bias with words. Start doing things that will make the difference.


David Cohn
wrote:

I think the time for evangelizing is over. At this point if you are in a mainstream news organization and you don’t see the need for change, the battle is lost and I’m not going to spend time trying to convince you to change the culture in your newsroom. I will simply shake your hand, wish you an honest good luck and move on…If you want to see real change – don’t tell news room editors what to do – DO IT YOURSELF.

And Zac Echola, writing about Wired Journalists, wrote:

Something happened early this year in the media blogging world. We suddenly stopped talking about what we should be doing and started talking about what we are doing. We started talking about being the change we wish to see. It was at the same time a jarring change in tone and an exhilarating one.
Now is the time to be that catalyst for change in your news organization. No more talking about it. We’re doing it. And we want you to do it too.

Wired Journalists is a social networking site set up by Ryan Sholin, Howard Owens and Zac Echola after Owen’s post on getting wired.
In a very short amount of time, the site has gained over 300 members. It opens up discussions, not on why online journalism is important, but how to start doing it. Members are both newbies and established “wired” journalists.

I realized today that consciously or not, the “just do it” trend is affecting me, too. I spent a lot of time at The Independent Florida Alligator last semester trying to win over some very print-oriented editors. I spent a lot of time making lists of projects I wanted to start. Not that I didn’t get anything done; we made a lot of progress on getting our content management system working the way WE wanted it to work.

But this semester I’ve spent more time actually ticking projects off that list. I finally got the Gainesville Explorer project running. A multimedia stringer made a map of apartment complexes in Gainesville. Yea, that’s right, I have stringers. (I think we need to change this lingo, minion is a much cooler word.) I met with some of the business staff regarding the missing alumni page. I’ve gotten the editor and managing editor for print writing blog posts. All in just three weeks.

This is a hell of a lot more fun than fighting print bias and trying to get reporters to see the light.

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An introduction to RSS

RSS has got to be one of my favorite reporting tools. Although my writing lately is limited to this blog and News Videographer, I still have to find something to write about and keep current in my field. That means communicating with a lot of people.

But I don’t have time to talk to all those people. Many of them have Web sites and blogs, and those who don’t get written about online by the former. It’s much easier and faster for all this information to be compiled in one place for my viewing pleasure.

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. It is most often characterized by the orange and white icon you may see on many Web sites. (See the icon at the top of the right column?) An RSS feed basically delivers new content from a chosen site to a feed reader of your choice.

A feed reader, also known as a news aggregator, can be compared to your e-mail inbox. Instead of e-mail addressed to you, it receives the updates you have subscribed to. Some readers let you interact and organize your subscriptions in many different ways.

So start receiving these handy-dandy updates, you first need a feed reader. My favorite is Google Reader, but other options are available such as Bloglines and NewsGator. You can also choose, like e-mail, to use a Web-based or desktop feed reader. You can peruse these options by simply doing a search for feed readers.

Having chosen your feed reader, start subscribing! In most cases, the orange and white RSS icon will appear somewhere on a Web site. Some browsers will also show the icon in the address bar if there is a feed for that site. Some sites do not have feeds.

I’ve subscribed to a slew of different sites, from news to blogs to entertainment and more. If your city government has a Web site, chances are it has some sort of feed (even Gainesville has one for municipal minutes). State and federal governments are more likely to provide more information. And don’t discount blogs! Even though you will have to double-check the information, blogs are an amazing resource, and with a little hunting you can find the good ones.

Now, all you have to do is remember to check the feed reader every day.

This post was also published at Wired Journalists.