Coding from scratch

It ain’t the prettiest site, but for my first effort, I’m proud of how well it works.

I’m proud to show off my full-fledged attempt at creating a website from scratch.

It’s my variation on my Multimedia Planning and Design assignment to create a “Welcome to the SEC” website based on some of the content from the Columbia Missourian’s terrific Road to the SEC special section, put together in advance of MU’s inaugural football season in the Southeastern Conference.

Check it out, the site is live.

It’s my first foray into building from a blank slate to a fully-functional website with inside pages, media and CSS styling. We were given content for two schools, LSU and Florida, and an introduction story, then told to create something that follows HTML/CSS and journalistic design rules.

The whole thing was a real challenge, from storyboarding to execution, and it was crucial that I pace myself and work within my own limits. This design was born of a compromise between my coding capabilities and my desire to do this great content justice.

My favorite part of the site is an old-school HTML technique, called an image map, that I used as navigation to the individual schools’ profiles from the splash page. Basically, the code identifies certain areas of an image file (this time a map of SEC schools I created) clickable. By identifying the X and Y coordinates of the LSU Tiger and UF Gator logos, I was able to create a circular area with a radius of 50 pixels that essentially makes each logo a button to link you to each profile.

A look at the code associated with my image map with the “Inspect Element” feature on Google Chrome.

It’s pretty simple, but it was a cool effect for a rookie like me.

On the inside pages I made sure to play up a large lead photo and let the story flow underneath the important fast facts info. Plus, the school’s logos appear again as navigation from profile page to profile page.

The project was a good start and I had fun working through the kinks and bouncing ideas off my classmates and friends. Despite the headaches, I’m starting to feel comfortable with HTML, stylesheets and thoughtful web design.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll ditch this WordPress CMS for my own from-scratch site.

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Developing stories

It seems that nearly everything I’m working on is a developing story this week.

Not in any kind of conclusive way either — it looks like nearly all of the subjects I’ve been covering are going to keep on rolling right through November.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the issues I’m following (including links to my most recent work on each):

  • The UM System presidential search: curators have met in closed session twice in the past two weeks, once in Kansas City and again St. Louis. Both meetings were held behind closed doors, and the curators will meet in executive session again Thursday night via teleconference. UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead confirmed curators met with candidates in St. Louis and that the search committee hopes to have a small group of finalists in the next few weeks.
  • Performance funding: MU Faculty Council will again discuss performance funding models and their implications for MU at Thursday’s meeting. Council members have been critical of a proposed performance-based funding model and it seems Nikki Krawitz hopes to quell their fears and talk about the specifics of the plan before making her presentation of the model at the fall semester general faculty meeting Nov. 16.
  • Retirement plan and academic freedom: these two get lumped together because they’re two developing issues that have had some serious chatter. The Board of Curators recently approved a new retirement plan, but there’s still lots of work to be done and I hope to stay on top of it as I become an advanced reporter this spring. The proposed academic freedom policy is a hotly debated issue and MU’s Faculty Council butted heads on whether it goes too far or not far enough — and the debate is far from over.
  • SEC and academics: this is a good story I have up my sleeve, but is still in its infancy. I won’t talk about the details here, but with the help of Jacqui Banaszynski, I think I’ve got a strong footing to get this story rolling to quickly follow up on the *almost-certainly* pending MU/SEC announcement.

As things continue to develop I’ll try to keep things updated on the blog. As I receive information, I do my best to make it available on my personal Twitter, @zach_murdock, (and it will often make the @CoMissourian Twitter feed too) so follow along on Twitter for the latest news and highlights.

Curators and conferences

I’m in Kansas City today and Friday at the UM System Board of Curators meetings at UMKC.

There’s a lot of speculation surrounding a couple of big topics — namely the UM presidential search and conference realignment — and I’ll be blogging, writing and tweeting live as things develop throughout the day.

The curators meet in full this afternoon and tomorrow morning, and are scheduled to have big discussions during Finance and Audit committee meetings before entering a regularly scheduled, full-board (quorum) executive session scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

Regarding conference realignment, UM System Spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead told me this morning:

“The curators are not expected to discuss conference realignment, at least for today. Let’s just take it one day at a time.”

After a short press conference following open-session meetings tomorrow morning, the board will again enter a regularly scheduled executive session. Hollingshead said the curators will not be holding an additional press conference following the session and will not make statements on the content of the meeting.

In addition, no announcement will be made regarding the status of the board’s search for a new UM president.

Follow @zach_murdock, @CoMissourian and the #umcurators hashtag for the most up to date information about the meetings.

CoTweet and Curators Part II (Belated)

Although it’s several days late, I can’t help but publish the post I had written following Tuesday’s UM System Board of Curators meeting and subsequent press conference.

A couple of things stood in the way of the publishing of this post: a) a lead on a news story that came about up about a proposed academic freedom policy and b) the passing of Apple CEO and technology mogul Steve Jobs.

Tuesday was a reporting marathon for those of us who made the trip to the UMSL student center for the Board of Curators meeting and press conference.

Though I did get the chance to write an article of my own on the proposed new retirement plan, the real learning experience came from just watching MU football beat writer Harry Plumer and his sports-writer colleagues from other (competitor) newspapers/media outlets.

Listening to those writers talk shop as they stood around waiting (nearly 4 hours) for the night’s press conference was an awesome backstage look at the community of sports writers that cover Mizzou athletics.

And it is very much a community. As Harry told me later that night, they’re all in it together — and that’s the attitude each of the writers brought to the meeting, and it was cool to see them help each other out.

My other big learning experience Tuesday was CoTweet, and getting a feel for what it really takes to live-tweet an event. It’s a situation where you’re required to make a lot of split-second decisions, and the pressure is on when you’re tweeting live alongside you’re competitors.

During the public session, I had trouble taking diligent notes while trying to make those on-the-spot decisions about tweeting, so I abandoned the idea and focused instead on the article I knew I needed to write.

But that evening, Harry and I decided that I would take over the @CoMoSports twitter account and live tweet the press conference. With my focus just on tweeting, I think I did a better job of actively listening for tweet-worthy lines, but I’d just scratched the surface.

Even with all of my attention turned to tweeting, I was still faced with a multitude of decisions — do I directly quote or paraphrase? How should I attribute? Should I mention other twitter accounts?

In the end, I tweeted 7 times from @CoMoSports, and though none of the tweets were really substantial, they did get the main points of the press conference across to readers who were watching their timelines. If I got to make excuses for myself, I’d chalk up my difficulties to being a rookie and I’d argue that I’m much better prepared for the next time I get to tweet.

Overall, it was fun to be a part of such a big announcement and it was a good, long reporting day.

CoTweet and Curators Part I

Today’s a big news day here in Missouri, and all eyes are on the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri—St. Louis and the UM System Board of Curators.

The board meets today in St. Louis to discuss the latest draft of a new employee retirement plan (that’s where I come in), but will also have two executive sessions that will be closed to the public, the second of which will be a full board executive session behind closed doors (where everyone else comes in).

The student center should be packed — there’s been plenty of speculation that following this full board meeting, board chairman Warren Erdman will make an announcement regarding Mizzou’s allegiance to the Big 12 (or its infidelity with the SEC). MU has been flirting with the idea of pursuing another athletic conference for awhile, but as Harry Plumer told me yesterday: it’s time for MU to put up, or shut up.

Harry’s one of the Missourian’s MU Football writers, and has been covering MU’s position in the conference realignment for awhile. He and I will be in St. Louis for today’s meetings.

But a rumored conference announcement is not my interest (as a writer at least). Instead, I’ll be covering the curators’ discussion of the new retirement plan which has been a hot issue and even has the curators disagreeing. I’ve covered official Board of Curators meetings before, but what’s different today is that I have access to the @CoMissourian twitter account through CoTweet, an online engagement platform.

Even though I’d consider myself an experienced Twitter user, there is a sense of power associated with tweeting from @CoMissourian. In a way, the Missourian’s reputation is most vulnerable on Twitter and I’d hate to be that guy that tweets something embarrassing or incorrect from the paper’s handle.

Of course I’ll have plenty of support back in the Missourian newsroom from Community Outreach Director Joy Mayer and her on duty team member. They’ll be looking over my shoulder to edit tweets and keep mentioners engaged.

The ability to live-tweet important notes and quotes from the meeting isn’t exactly new to me, but I’ve never tweeted officially for the paper as part of my reporting. It’ll certainly be a valuable learning experience and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I incorporate live social media into my reporting.

Follow today’s meetings on Twitter from @zach_murdock and @CoMissourian, and keep an eye out for a “CoTweet and Curators Part II” follow-up post tomorrow morning.