August 22, 2017

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

This is the first regular edition of Try This! — Tools for Journalism. If you missed the welcome message last week, here’s a copy (and a reminder that nobody knows everything about digital tools). I promised to keep this short, so let’s dig right in.

WEIRD AND WONDERFUL: Did you know that Microsoft makes a swoopy, slide-y interactive storytelling tool? I had never heard of Sway until I met Keith Herndon from the University of Georgia’s Grady College at the AEJMC conference in early August. Dr. Herndon coordinates Grady’s mobile news lab, an extracurricular workshop where students are challenged to produce news with mobile devices. A few years back, his students got credit for being the first to use Sway — originally more of a presentation tool — for mobile reporting. If you’ve found a great journalistic use for a non-journalistic tool like this, let me know!

LAST WEEK: There’s a good chance you’re reading this after the eclipse has already happened. If so, congrats on not burning a hole in your eyeball. Last week, I chatted with my colleagues Kristen Hare and Katie Hawkins-Gaar about using Northwestern University Knight Lab’s StoryMap tool for sharing eclipse pics and vids from your audiences. StoryMaps are quick and easy to put together, embeddable on your site, and in my experience drive up engagement like crazy. It’s not too late. Give it a shot!

TOOL TIP: My crystal ball shows me that most of you are on Gmail. Here are a few quick tips to make sure you’re on the straight-and-narrow with your account.

  • Are you who you say you are? I see a lot of folks with weird outgoing names. Check yours by clicking the cog on the top right of your inbox, then selecting “settings,” “accounts,” and then “edit info” next to “send mail as.”
  • Know that feeling in the depths of your stomach when you realize you just emailed the wrong their/there/they’re to your whole team? Turn on Undo Send and never worry about it again. Just click the settings cog and scroll down until you see the option to enable “Undo Send.” You can sign up for a five- to 30-second delay to protect you from boo-boos.
  • See that picture of you (or that anonymous blue silhouette) on the top right corner? That’s who everyone else sees when they get a message from you. Make sure you’re using a flattering picture.

LITERALLY DIGITAL: Not all tools are digital. I got sick of the quality of my iPhone’s pinhole mic and picked up a Rode VideoMic Me at Mark E. Johnson’s recommendation. (He’s also from Grady College. They’re smart folks!) The difference is incredible. It’s like switching from a moped to a Ferrari, except much cheaper.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Data reporting confounds me in a lot of ways, but it’s something I’m working on. So I was pretty excited to see this easy-to-use data explorer from Google News Lab (disclosure: they’re sponsors for my gig at Poynter, but we retain editorial control), ProPublica and Pitch Interactive. It collects reports from media about hate crimes and incidents of bias.

ISO (IN SEARCH OF): The return of gimmicky networking tools like the (very lame) Bump. If you never got to experience it, Bump was an iOS app that allowed users to exchange contact info by opening it and tapping their phones together. (I know, I know. But, at the time, it was magical.) It’s journalism conference season, and lugging around business cards is so two-thousand-and-late. Do you have a must-use app for conferences?

ON TAP: We’re hosting a Webinar about on Aug. 31. It’s a robust tool for sharing and analyzing datasets. The Associated Press has been using it to distribute big datasets to its subscribers in a pilot program. Join in!

Got suggestions for a new section of the newsletter? Want help learning to use a particular tool? Got a cool new one to share? Did you try something and fall flat on your face? Let me know! I’m here to learn from you, too.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here. Got a tool we should talk about? Let Ren know!

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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