How to find the useful information hidden on every website

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There are the overt cues that signal a website’s legitimacy. What does the “about” page say? Are authors’ names listed on every post? Does the URL sound like it was cooked up by a 6-year-old or possibly a James Bond villain? But then there’s the hidden stuff that can unlock the secrets about whether the site you’re looking at is fake news. 

Learn how to use these tools and then share them with that family member who keeps spamming you with junk. You know what they say: Fact-check your uncle and he’ll delete a post, teach your uncle to fact-check and he’ll never share fake news again. Or maybe that’s optimistic.

FIND IT: Run Poynter.org through URLscan.io and you suddenly know a whole lot about us. We have valid security certificates, are built on Drupal, host ads via DoubleClick for Publishers and link to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, for example. But for illegitimate sites, a quick search through this tool can be illuminating. Pay special attention to privacy issues and outgoing links. In fact, it’s a versatile tool for many occasions, from troubleshooting slow sites to figuring out what technologies a site is using (check out Wappalyzer if you’re particularly interested in that last one). h/t Gary Price, a researcher, librarian and founder of Infodocket.com

ROBOTS RISING: A 2013 episode of the British science fiction series Black Mirror explores what happens when a young widow uploads all of her correspondence with her husband to an online service that replicates his knowledge and tone of speech. Spoilers: Things get weird. So I couldn’t help but wonder if science fiction had jumped off the small screen and come to life as I read this Quartz article about Replika, an AI that learns from you and matches your personality. Its creator built it by uploading correspondence with a deceased friend to an AI neural network, resulting in conversations that were “eerily accurate.” 

WORD UP: Not all robots are scary. I’m particularly partial to the ones that make me sound less dumb in emails, on social media and in this very newsletter. I use Grammarly to look for spelling errors, grammatical concerns, passive voice and more (it’s currently harassing me about my lack of an Oxford comma back there). Merrill Perlman, who was a copy editor at the New York Times for 25 years, stopped by Poynter to teach last week and also recommended AP StyleGuard, Lingofy and AP Lingofy, PerfectIt, WordRake and Hemingway, depending on your needs. 

NO DEVICE REQUIRED: I found a peculiar little tool when we rearranged our offices a few weeks ago. It plugs in between the handset and base of a desk phone and provides a port to record the phone call on an external device. I brushed off the dust and left in a communal space, but it looks like someone tossed it out. Nowadays, we can just fire up an app like TapeACall and do it all from our iPhones.

FOLLOWUP: You don’t have to be a Doctor Who fanatic to know that humans comprehend time in strange ways. Sometimes it seems to be moving quickly, other times it crawls, but we’ve mapped it all out with an objective system to collectively keep track. Journalists can add context to articles that feature the passing of time as a central device with Sutori, a tool for building visual timelines with a super easy interface. I’ve recommended Sutori before, but it just gained the ability to accept embeds from more than a dozen different sources, increasing its usefulness quite a bit.

ON MY RADAR: It makes sense that the most engaged community of journalists online is made up of journalists who are interested in engagement, but I was still shocked at the sheer enthusiasm of Gather. The community just launched as a public beta. It is the place to be if you’re interested in resources about engaged journalism, which you should most definitely be. 

LAST WEEK: Audio can escape the prison of your favorite podcast app and transform into something that people can actually share, with just a little help. We’ve got three great tools to help you build audiograms in just a few minutes. No coding, video editing or audio skills required. 

Learn more about journalism tools with Try This! — Tools for Journalism. Try This! is powered by Google News Lab. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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