Featured sites and expert advice for using the Web

Free Online Courses from the BBC

The BBC has one of the deepest training departments of any journalism organization in the world. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of the BBC and British taxpayers, many of the BBC’s training courses are available free online for anyone to use.

The courses you’ll find here were originally designed for BBC. As a result, some of the modules contain specific references to BBC procedures, methods and services.

Nevertheless, they’re still useful, especially in a rapidly converging world. The radio courses, for example, are useful for anyone interesting in learning audio storytelling skills for podcasting.

The courses you’ll find on the site include:

You can expect more online material from the BBC in the future. BBC News recently launched a new internal training site — The College of Journalism Web site, or CoJo online — with more than 500 pages and 40 videos of training. Right now it’s only available to BBC employees, but the BBC hopes to launch a public version by the end of the year.

(Another fantastic resource for online training, for those not already aware, is News University, a project of The Poynter Institute funded by the Knight Foundation, which you can find at newsu.org)

YOUR TURN: What Sites Do You Recommend?
Please send them to poynter@jondube.com, and I may run your suggestions.


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Thursday, Feb. 08, 2007

Photoshop Alternatives

I am a fan of Adobe Photoshop, the powerful image-editing software that graphic designers love. But I find myself using it less often than I used to. In fact, my usage has fallen off dramatically. The main reason is that I find I often don’t need all the firepower it has to offer.

Most of the time, I am just doing some simple cropping and resizing of photos. To use Photoshop, which takes (what feels like) a long time to load, seems like overkill. Besides, I often need to do some image editing while I am away from my main office computer, the only one of my three computers that even has Photoshop on it. And the reason most of my computers don’t have the program is that, at $649, it’s too expensive. Even the much cheaper and less powerful Photoshop Elements, at $99, feels like overkill most of the time.

I have been increasingly relying on free, Web-based photo editors that require no downloads and can be easily accessed just about anywhere in the world. They mostly work the same way: You go to the site, upload the photo you want to edit (or put in the photo’s URL if it’s already online somewhere) and then make the changes to the photo right away on the screen. You can then download the photo or e-mail it. They almost all allow you to crop, resize, adjust brightness and contrast, etc.

Just yesterday, I was asked to e-mail a certain-sized mug shot for something, and I was easily able to do so. You don’t have to be a Web producer or photojournalist to find this useful. In fact, some Web producers and photojournalists will find these tools too simplistic for their more sophisticated work.

There are plenty of free, Web-based photo editors, and I haven’t quite settled on one just yet. I jump around the following:

Here are some blog posts that compare several of the programs: on SmileyCat and Digital Inspiration.

I would love your help in assessing which of these is the best. I am leaning toward Picnik and Snipshot right now, but please send in your comments and thoughts here.

If you like using a desktop-based editing program, but can’t afford Photoshop, here are some alternatives:

UPDATE: Several folks wrote in via e-mail to suggest that I also alert you to Picasa, a free, desktop-based editing software program, owned by Google (no Mac version yet).

YOUR TURN: Send me sites you like at poynter@sree.net (include your name, affiliation and city), and I just might run it in a future column.

Sree’s Links

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Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007

Save This Tip, 2005

Time for the annual year-end roundup
of our favorite Web Tips. The idea is to put together a list of
the most useful tips, Web sites and columns from the past year so that
you can have them all in one place. You’ll find mine below. Jon Dube’s
favorites, in Part II of this column, are here.

A big thank you and season’s greetings to Poynter readers. We
rely on you for tips and feedback to do our work (speaking of readers,
please join the 100+ of them who are helping with the Web Tips Frappr
Project details below).

Here are my favorite tips.

Improve Your Work:

Sites & Services:

Reporter Resources:

Don’t forget to check out the 2004 (Sree|Jon) and 2003 (Sree|Jon) editions of Save This Tip.

If you’re into year-end lists, you need to check out one of my favorite compilations, the annual list of year-end lists that’s running on Fimoculous.com (in 2004, the list had 550 lists and is well en route to a similar number for this year. I wrote a column back in October 2003 about my love for lists).

Your turn: send me sites you like at poynter@sree.net (include your name, affiliation and city)

NOTE: WEB TIPS FRAPPR PROJECT – Help us create a collaborative media project by joining 100+ of our readers at http://www.frappr.com/poynterwebtips.

When you get there, click on “add yourself” on the right of your screen.

If you live in the U.S., put in your name and zip code. Attach a
photo (if you wish — optional!). Remove the “Create a Frappr Account
for me” (if you don’t want one) by clicking on checkbox. Hit “Add Me.”

If you live outside the U.S., put in your name, then click on “Not
in the U.S.? Click Here.” Start typing your city and a menu with your
city should show up. Attach a photo (if you wish — optional!).
Remove the “Create a Frappr Account for me” (if you don’t want one) by
clicking on checkbox. Hit “Add Me.”

We’ll watch this little project grow in the months ahead. Meanwhile, I am still working on my follow-up column about Social Networking for Journalists and looking to connect with readers at LinkedIn.com.

Sree’s Links

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Tuesday, Jan. 09, 2007

Save This Tip!

We let 2006 slip by without doing our annual roundup of our most useful tips, Web sites and columns. To make amends for that, let’s start the year with some useful lists.


2005 editions of Save This Tip: Sree | Jon

2004 editions of Save This Tip: Sree | Jon

2003 editions of Save This Tip: Sree | Jon

Read all 300+ Web Tips since Sept. 2001.

Web Tips by e-mail:
Click here to receive (sent Tuesdays at noon)

Here are some of my more useful Web Tips columns:

Some of Jon’s picks:

Here are some other lists worth checking out. 

If you’re into year-end lists, you need to see one of my favorite compilations, the annual list of dozens of year-end lists that’s compiled by Fimoculous.com (here’s 2005 and 2004). I wrote a column back in October 2003 about my love of lists).

Your turn: send me sites you like at poynter@sree.net (include your name, affiliation and city) Read more


Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

24/7 Iraq News

A new site, IraqSlogger.com, offers Iraq news links, original reporting and opinion, and is aiming to be “the world’s premier Iraq-focused information source.”

The site, which officially launches this week, is run by former CNN news chief Eason Jordan and produced by a staff with experience in both journalism and the military. The site’s contributors include 50 Iraq-based correspondents, experts, and tipsters; it also includes reporters and Iraq analysts in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Jordan says he started the site because “news consumers deserve better — a one-stop source for serious, original, comprehensive Iraq-focused news and insight, with contributions from multiple perspectives and nationalities, including Iraqis.”

Among the features you’ll find on the site:

The name of the site, by the way, was inspired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reference to the Iraq war being a “long, hard slog.”

YOUR TURN: What Sites Do You Recommend?
Please send them to poynter@jondube.com, and I may run your suggestions.


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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

Tracking Books

We’ve all heard about authors obsessed with the Amazon.com rankings of their books — some who go as far as temporarily manipulating the rankings by buying copies of their own books in bulk. But non-authors are often interested in book rankings, too (or else we wouldn’t have so many kinds of bestseller lists).

The standard Amazon rankings that are updated hourly are interesting, but not very useful. (Below you will find some links that have more information — including critiques — about the rankings themselves.)

I want to tell you today about TitleZ.com, a site I have been using to track books I am interested in. It takes Amazon’s rankings and tracks them over a longer period of time. Think of it as way to go beyond the bestsellers, to the slow sellers and the barely sellers. Here’s the description, from the site:

TitleZ provides:
  • Data: Instantly retrieve historic and current sales rankings from Amazon and create printable reports with 7-, 30-, 90-day and lifetime averages
  • Trends: Easily see how topics or titles perform over time; measure the competition; understand what’s hot
  • Insight: Improve decision-making; know what to publish and when

I use it to keep an eye on a dozen books or so, constantly adding and removing titles. It also has a handy feature that lets you pick a few titles and do direct comparisons of the sales, say, the previous week or month.
The company has a detailed description of how it can benefit various categories of users (publishers, authors, journalists, etc).

The service is free during the current beta testing period. I am not sure when that runs out, but depending on what they charge, I would consider paying for it.

Yes, this still has many of the underlying problems of the Amazon rankings themselves, but is a good example of how existing information and data can be used in new and interesting ways.

Some resources on Amazon rankings:

UPDATE: Reader Karen Shanley, author of Dogs of Dreamtime, writes with another suggestion:

TicTap is a similar site that offers even
more goodies. It’s a free service, and
there are no plans to change that. Not only can you compare
books, and track any individual book over a range of time, but you can
type in a Zip Code to see how the book is selling in that area.
It’s not just for books, though any author or book tracker will find it useful. You can even access it on any mobile device.

YOUR TURN: Tell us what you think of TitleZ, TicTap or the Amazon rankings. Please post your feedback directly onto this column’s feedback page or e-mail me at

Sree’s Links

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Tuesday, Nov. 07, 2006

Guide to Poll Data Online

Several researchers have put together an excellent guide to the plethora of public opinion poll Web sites now online.

The guide is one journalists will find particularly useful, as it avoids unscientific online polls and those focused primarily on market research, and instead focuses on scientific, public opinion surveys.

The guide includes scores of links that will help you find everything from information about the basics of polls to major national and regional U.S. media polls to polling data from around the world.  

In addition to links to detailed survey data from such polling centers as Quinnipiac University, you’ll find gems like these:

  • The Gallup Poll Editors’ Blog: “This blog is written by Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport and the other editors at Gallup in order to comment and provide analysis on recent polls.
  • Mystery Pollster: “This blog, written by Mark Blumenthal, a Democratic pollster, is intended to demystify ‘the science and art of political polling.’ Blumenthal does an excellent job of explaining poll results and methodology. He provides links to many other polling resources and to other blogs.”
  • UK Polling Report: “This blog is written by Anthony Wells. Using information from British polling sources and data from a marketing research firm, YouGov.com, Wells provides analysis and commentary on polling results and survey methodology relating to British public opinion. Entries are organized chronologically and by topic.”

You can find the guide on the Web site of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. It was put together by Gary Thompson, the director of library and audiovisual services, and Sean Conley, a reference and media services librarian at Siena College.

Please send them to poynter (at) jondube.com and I may run your suggestions.


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Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006

Sites We Read

I am often asked for a list of Web sites I read. I am equally curious about what some of my friends, colleagues and readers read, so I thought I would turn this into a group exercise. I will, starting today and in occasional future columns, describe a site I read multiple times every day. I will try to mix it up so there are both blogs and other kinds of sites. One thing you can be sure of: each is a site I read at least twice a day, unless I am on vacation or in a place without connectivity.

And I would like your help. If you know the site, please add your feedback, good or bad. In addition, please submit your must-read sites either via e-mail to me or in this feedback area attached this article.

To start us off:

RegretTheError.com: This is a blog of corrections compiled from around the media world. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, always fascinating, this site is one of my first stops every day. Some days I stop by three or more times. Among the interesting things to note is the number of mainstream publications without corrections policies or listings. I first learned about it in this 2004 Poynter posting by Steve Outing:

All Errors, All the Time

It’s been said by many people that blogs are forcing traditional
journalism to evolve and improve. One way this is happening is with
blogs devoted to watchdogging the media in general (e.g., CJR Campaign Desk) and individually (e.g., ChronWatch).

Here’s the latest example: Regret the Error,
a new blog devoted solely to reporting on newspaper errors. The site’s
mission: to “report on corrections, retractions, clarifications, and
trends regarding accuracy and honesty in North American media.”

YOUR TURN: Please share your reading lists by e-mailing me at poynter@sree.net (with your permission, I will share them here or in a future column) or by putting in your comments directly into this feedback page

Sree’s Links

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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006

Google News Archive Search

Google News has rapidly risen to be one of the most popular news sites on the Web, with more than 9.5 million unique visitors a month and not one journalist on staff. Now, it’s gotten even better.

Google News has indexed the full text of hundreds of thousands of articles going back 200 years and created a valuable new news archive search.

You can access the new Google News Archive Search directly at http://news.google.com/archivesearch

Using the site, you can search for people, events and issues from publications such as Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post, as well as news article databases such as Factiva, LexisNexis, Thomson Gale and HighBeam Research.

When you search, the site automatically creates a timeline of the results, sorting the articles by relevant time periods using computer algorithms and enabling you to get a quick historical overview.

For example, search for polio (click here to see results) and you get results going all the way back to 1910.

You can further refine the results by clicking on the suggested date ranges in the left column. Or you can switch to the “search articles” view and sort the results by publication.

I should warn you: Much of the content in the results isn’t free — in most cases, you have to subscribe or pay a fee on the publisher’s site to access the archived material. Still, it’s invaluable to be able to search so many sources so quickly, for free, online.

And here’s a trick: You can use the Advanced Search to search for articles listed as “no price.” That doesn’t always mean they’re free — sometimes Google just isn’t aware of the price — but sometimes they are. You can also use the Advanced Search to search within specific dates.

For another searchable news database online, check out LexisNexis AlaCarte! (previous column)

Please send them to poynter (at) jondube.com and I may run your suggestions.


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Thursday, June 15, 2006

LinkedIn, Anyone?


[After a summer hiatus, WebTips is back. Please send in your tips and

Like many journalists, I like to think that I am not just in the journalism business, but that I am also in the connecting business — helping various people find and connect with one another. These people can range from reporters looking for additional sources after they interview me, to students looking to be introduced to editors in certain news outlets, to random requests over the transom.

Connecting people, however, is a dicey game. Every time you connect a requester and a requestee (are these real words?), you are putting your own reputation on the line. If the requester asks to be connected to a certain kind of requestee and the person you connect him or her to isn’t appropriate, you have wasted the requester’s time. Similarly, for each connection you try to make of a requestee, you have to be sure it’s a worthwhile connection and that the requestee won’t end up irritated with you for sending along someone less than professional.

So why take that risk every day, as I do? There’s something nice about making the right connections. Besides, I have come to look upon it as part of of my job.

I used to rely exlusively on e-mail to make these connections, but for more than a year now, I have been depending on a free social networking Web site called LinkedIn.com. Social networking sites, such as a MySpace, Friendster, etc., have a less-than-stellar reputation these days, so describing LinkedIn as “MySpace for professionals” does not make it sound appealing — but that description is appropriate (I thought of calling it “MySpace for adults,” but that makes it sound like something else altogether). Social networking does have its uses (see my November 2005 column on this subject) and I think LinkedIn is the most useful of the lot when it comes to making professional connections.

You first create a free account, then fill out a profile of yourself and then explore the “find people” space to see which of your contacts is already in LinkedIn. Then you can ask them to connect with you. Once they do, they become your “first-degree” connections and their connections become part of your network, as “second-degree” connections.

The connections of those second-degree folks become your “third-degree connections.” All of this is done through the system. My math’s no good, but it adds up fast. As of this writing, I have 317 direct connections; 43,000 second-degree connections and 1.4 million-plus connections in my network. I can search my network and contact anyone on it, but the reason the system works is that I can only connect with my direct connections directly. Everyone else has to be connected through the folks I know. They hear only from people they already know directly. So it’s basically friends — or acquaintances — making the initial connection.

Here’s an example of how I use it. A couple of months ago, a Japanese journalist came to interview me for a story about the American media. At the end of the interview, she asked me if I knew a certain well-known, veteran journalist. I said that I had met him a couple of times, but didn’t have his direct e-mail. So I looked in my LinkedIn network to see if someone in my direct contacts knew this person. Sure enough, someone did. With the Japanese journalist shoulder-surfing, I wrote a note to my contact, asking him to pass on the request for an interview via the LinkedIn system. I told my interviewer that this process could take a while and that it may not work at all. Turns out by the time she returned to her hotel, my contact had forwarded my request and the veteran journalist had written back a nice note I then passed on to her: “Sree… just tell her to contact me at [ ___ ]. If I can spend any time with her, I will. I should warn you though that I’m traveling a lot this month and may be hard to pin down. Let’s try, though.”

Several important things about this example:

  • That veteran journalist happened to have a LinkedIn account. 
  • If he hadn’t had an account, I would have looked in my network for
    someone else who works at the same company and try to get a contact
    that way.
  • The forwarding system ensures that someone like him can only be contacted by someone he already knows (and who made the judgment call about whether to forward my note or not). 

LinkedIn is particularly useful when you are looking for a job. Knowing someone who works in the same division of a company you are interested in can help you get background information or get your resume to the right person. Nowadays, when someone asks me for contacts at a media outlet, I tell them to join LinkedIn, connect with me there and search my contacts. They use the system to send my contacts a message via me. I then judiciously decide whether to forward the message or not. I have declined to forward messages in some cases when the contact would not be appropriate. In the old days (i.e., last year), I would have just c.c.-ed my contact and the job seeker. I still do that, on occasion, with very good friends, but this way is better so that the contact can decide whether he/she wants to respond, without the job seeker automatically getting hold of his or her e-mail address.

I asked several LinkedIn users to share their thoughts, and I am reproducing some here. (Because many of these comments are in some ways employment-related, I’m keeping them anonymous to protect the identities of the folks who responded to my queries.):

  • I use it all the time and think every journalist can find good contacts there. It is also less rude than just e-mailing someone you don’t know directly.
  • I use my profile page with all my work experience listed instead of creating my own Web site and online resume.
  • I don’t know about the New York “market,” but it’s really taken hold
    here in Silicon Valley. When someone requests help or tells me about
    looking for a job, my first comment is “Get on LinkedIn if you’re not.”
  • I hire all my new freelancers this way.
  • What I’d like is the ability to do multiple profiles/pages. For example, my day job is as a tech writer, but I am also a media person and an activist. I’d like to be able to separate those, yet not try to have three accounts.
  • I was first getting contacted by people I wasn’t interested in, but lately the connections have been very useful.
  • We all know social networking trends [tend toward] younger [audiences,] but since I’ve joined LinkedIn personally, I really see the divide now. After I explained how the more friends you have, the more it helps you, one [person] said to me last night, “I can see how it would be useful, but if I sent that to my friends, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
  • It’s pretty good. It’s very useful for going beyond corporate directories. Anybody who works in the corporate world should have it — definitely. Let’s see, I usually link in about 2-3 times per week and it really helps in networking.
  • Totally useless. I get inundated with the equivalent of spam from headhunters who want to network with me. As far as my friends go, they usually send me e-mails directly when they need help. I’ve found that this is more of an “ego” tool for techies who want to make it look like they know a lot of people.
  • Was intrigued by the idea … but found the system difficult to use… I’d periodically get an alert that someone had found a connection to me … but, to look up details of who it is, I need to enter my user name and password which did not work; retrieving password also was difficult … The idea is certainly powerful … but execution is poor.
  • My new boss at [ ___ ] got his job here by networking on LinkedIn. Our CTO is on LinkedIn and my boss “cold-called” him on LinkedIn. I haven’t used it enough to comment on it. However, knowing that my boss checks it regularly, I would hesitate to put a resume on it.
  •  Perhaps you could devote part of a column on how to manage such accounts. I was invited to join the network of a friend, and did so. Now I’m getting invitations to contact networks from people I don’t know inviting me to connect. Typical invitation reads: “I’ll recommend you to the people I know, if you’ll do the same for me; and I’ll pass on requests to you from people I trust. Please do the same.” My problem is I don’t know these people and they don’t know me. On what basis  do I vouch for them — or they for me? At the same time, if I came to know them, they might indeed become people I trust and whom I’d be happy to vouch for. I don’t want to offend them by declining their invitations (especially since, if I decline, they will not be allowed to invite me again). So, how do people handle this kind of situation?

As you can see, especially from the last comment, there is confusion about how this kind of service works. As with any new-ish concept, it might be hard to grasp till you try it for a while. Yes, you might get contacted by people you don’t really know. But you can easily decline those invitations to be added to their networks. I get, perhaps, two requests a month from people trying to randomly generate more connections. I just ignore those folks.

Here’s a more detailed response from someone who was once a LinkedIn skeptic and now calls herself a “LinkedIn poster girl”:

I joined LinkedIn when I entered business school. I received a number of invitations from classmates, but never paid much attention because the invites were from casual acquaintances. When a friend invited me, I reluctantly joined, and added the 10 other requests as links and thought that was the end of that.

A year later, just prior to graduation, I received a note from the CEO of [ ___ ] asking whether I would like to consider a job there. It was a bit of a surprise, and given my suspicion of the legitimacy of LinkedIn and the timing (I was in Basel at the time, negotiating my employment with a major pharmaceutical company), I wasn’t sure whether it was worth my time.

Out of curiosity I did answer him, and met with him the following week, and as you can see from my business card, I did end up going to [ ___ ]. I became a believer in LinkedIn and promptly added everyone in my Rolodex, and got nearly two dozen other job offers until I put a note on my profile saying that I am NOT looking to leave my company.

So that’s my experience… I’ve definitely become the LinkedIn poster girl. I recommend it to everyone, but I think it works for technology-based fields much better than others.

She’s right: people who work in tech use LinkedIn a lot more than others, including journalists. But I believe that as media professionals learn to use the system, it can work well for them, too. Is it perfect? Of course not. But I think that it’s something we should all be familiar with, at least.

You can see my public profile here and sign up for a free account off that page or by just going to LinkedIn.com (feel free to connect with me there, too).

YOUR TURN: Please share your experiences with LinkedIn and other social networking sites by e-mailing me at poynter@sree.net (with your permission, I will share them here or in a future column) or by putting in your comments directly into this feedback page.

Sree’s Links

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