10 trusty digital tools journalists should try right now
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There are hundreds of online tools to help journalists. Two years ago, Poynter’s News University partnered with the Knight Foundation and the American Press Institute to launch a catalog and series of free Webinars to highlight the best digital tools and teach journalists how to use them. In honor of NewsU’s 10th anniversary, here are 10 of the best tools from our catalog.
Influence Explorer (free on the Web)
The Sunlight Foundation maintains a suite of free tools that should prove to be invaluable as the 2016 elections roar to the top of the news cycle. As an unprecedented amount of money pours into U.S. elections, Influence Explorer might be the best tool in the lot. Use its robust search functionality to track spending by industries, companies, lobbyists and politicians, or examine the new Fixed Fortunes section to see exactly how $5.8 billion in campaign contributions and lobbying have earned corporations $4.4 trillion of federal money.
Co Everywhere (free for iOS and Android)
Odds are good that useful tips and sources of user-generated content exist within the approximately 500 million tweets sent every day. But even the most fertile information is useless if a reporter doesn’t know it exists. Co Everywhere make it easy to filter social media by location. Set up areas for local government offices, large corporations, schools, non-profits or wherever is important to your beat and watch as relevant social media pours in. It is especially good for breaking news stories or scheduled events, like the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the adjacent screenshot.
Cogi (free for iOS and Android, membership features available)
Reporters who rely on recordings know the pain of listening back to hours of unimportant chatter in an attempt to find a good quote. Cogi is a step above the voice recorders built into every phone because it buffers audio but doesn’t actually record everything. When you hear a usable quote or bit of information, tap the button and Cogi will retroactively record the last five to 45 seconds of audio (the time is configurable) and continue recording until you tap it again.
Videolicious (free for individuals, iOS only)
Some of the best digital tools simplify tasks that previously required highly technical skills. Videolicious, a popular tool in newsrooms across the country, eliminates hours of workflow and the need for expensive video editing software. Users who have no prior experience with filming and editing video can follow Videolicious’s extensive catalog of recipes, which was built in the field with reporters from the New York Daily News.
FiLMiC Pro ($7.99 for iOS)
If the best camera is the one that’s with you, even experienced video editors should have an app du jour ready at all times. FiLMiC Pro is a step above the competition because of its full manual controls and ability to monitor audio through headphones while recording. Dozens of other features round out FiLMiC Pro as the best mobile video editing app for any platform. Philip Bromwell’s video about an Irish photographer, shot entirely on an iPhone 6 Plus using FiLMiC Pro, won a mobile journalism award.
Silk.co (free on the Web)
There are plenty of options for data visualization tools online, but few make the process as easy or transparent as Silk.co. To make a Silk.co visualization, upload a spreadsheet, identify the most important variables and choose a visualization style. Silk.co makes all datasets public by default, so users can remix and republish your information. Check out citizen investigative journalism network Bellingcat’s military vehicle tracking project in Ukraine.
StoryMap.js (free on the Web)
Of all Northwestern University’s Knight Lab tools, Timeline.js gets the most hype. But StoryMap.js has a more streamlined interface and engaging format. StoryMap.js is a storytelling tool that highlights stories as a series of events. It is most potent when used for stories that take place across locations, like the Islamic State's push to carve out a new country or the Sochi Olympic torch relay. The built-in Gigapixel format allows exploration across large images.
Juxtapose.js (free on the Web)
Juxtapose.js is another tool from Knight Lab that displays similarities and differences between two similar pieces of media with a simple slider overlay. Juxtapose.js is one of the most effective ways to show the result of disasters or large-scale human-made changes.
Canva (free on the Web or iPad)
Tweets with graphics and images get a 35 percent boost in retweets, more than any other "feature." But it can be tough to wrangle a photographer or designer to find one or create one. Canva is a graphic design tool that makes building graphics for social media as easy as a few clicks. Built-in text tools and stock images (they cost $1 each) mean even the most print-centric reporter can earn a social media boost.
Free Webinar: Designing Your Story with Canva
Slack (free across platforms, premium features available)
Email feels increasingly out of place in the context of fast-paced digital journalism. Consider Slack a modern replacement. Part instant messenger, part chat room, Slack "puts the work stuff and watercooler stuff in the same package" and tremendously cuts down on emails, especially within organizations. Watch for a free NewsU Webinar with Slack later this spring.
Related: NewsU was funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Coming up, there are two ways you can join the NewsU birthday celebration. Share a story about how NewsU e-learning has transformed your journalism, and come to NewsU’s birthday Webinar on April 10, featuring some of the best lessons, tips, tricks, hacks and bits of knowledge from 10 years of e-learning.