What do we do when the sites we use shut down? Tech's problems are our problems.
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.
It’s tough to imagine a world without SoundCloud.
My first experience with the “YouTube for audio” was in 2010 when a friend shared a terrible mashup of “TiK ToK” by Kesha and a very European electronica song. I wasn’t impressed then, but now I sit up at night and worry about SoundCloud’s future.
The site has become the best place online to upload, find and share audio — from podcasts like Poynter’s defunct Covering 45 to the official storage site for one of my favorite digital tools, SoundCite.
Now go back to the first sentence of this newsletter and replace “SoundCloud” with your favorite news organization. Maybe it's the one you work for. Maybe it's the one you read. What would happen if The New York Times or your hometown newspaper disappeared from the internet tomorrow?
Does a backup of all that work exist somewhere? Not just the text, but also the images, the coding, the layouts, the posts to social and other platforms (How much work would we lose if Facebook or YouTube shut down tomorrow)? If not, how can we store those things?
We are already losing an incredible amount of information every day due to website redesigns, minute but steady changes to coding and a lack of maintenance.
Two and a half years ago, Adrienne LaFrance wrote about a Pulitzer Prize finalist series disappearing from the web. A month later, her Atlantic colleague Meredith Broussard wrote about how LaFrance’s story would likely itself disappear after a period of time.
As Broussard noted, great but imperfect answers exist. The Internet Archive is an incredible service and a technical marvel, but it isn't the most helpful for those who don't know the rough dates or websites the information was published on.
It’s maddening that we don’t have a solution for this. Our work is supposed to be the first draft of history. Instead, it’s a sand mandala with bits of code scattering under the digital winds.
GET SOCIAL: You probably already received a notification about this but here’s where you can go to see if Cambridge Analytica, the maligned consulting firm that used Facebook data to attempt to sway elections, got ahold of your information. The site tells me that CA likely got my “public profile, page likes, birthday and current city” because a friend logged into it. Unlike the quorum on my News Feed, I’m not shaming my poor anonymous friend(s) who gave away my data. How many of us played Candy Crush, Farmville or logged into those junk surveys back in the day? Sure, I wish my friends hadn’t given away my data. But, in Facebook’s terms, it’s complicated.
By the way, if you suspect some other group has been funneling your Facebook data, turn them in. There’s now a bounty for that.
PROTECT YOURSELF: I can get a little sanctimonious about journalists and data security. But this one has me speechless. On March 30, the entire West African country of Mauritania lost internet access for TWO WHOLE DAYS. I lived in New York when the entire Northeast lost power for about the same amount of time 15 years ago. We were fine, but I can’t fathom how many lives would be disrupted today — from banking to healthcare to home security, the internet has become a necessary public good.
SLIDE TO THE RIGHT: If you create presentations, it’s hard to go wrong with these six simple tips. I use them for all sorts of things, from teaching in person and online to sharing ideas and tools with coworkers. Here are a few more:
- Share one idea per slide.
- If you own a Mac, Keynote is significantly more user-friendly than PowerPoint and can export to a PowerPoint file.
- If you need to show a live site or a demo, take a screen capture with QuickTime or other recording tool and post that in the presentation. Then when the internet goes out, you’re still good to go.
- GIFs can be a great way to share information or emotion (here’s how to make them) but can also be distracting. Set them to loop only a couple times or move to the next slide quickly to mitigate distraction.
YOU’VE GOT MAIL: It looks like Gmail is about to get a big update. Here’s the TL;DR:
- A new sidebar will show your calendar, notes or tasks alongside your inbox.
- Google will auto-populate short, “smart” replies to answer emails, such as “sounds good” or “working on it now.”
- You can choose to “snooze” an email so that it disappears from your inbox for a set period of time.
The new features should appear within the next couple weeks. Check The Verge for screenshots of some of the new features.
MEASURE THIS: NBCUniversal and ESPN have created their own advertising standards to measure audiences across all platforms. To complicate matters, each one hopes that its standard will be adopted across the industry and the traditional group that does that has its own set of standards. Phew. If you’re struggling to understand why I included this in a digital tools newsletter for journalists, it’s because most of our jobs are ad-supported. It’s good to know where these things are headed.
While I’ve got your ear tuned in to analytics, take a look at Google Chrome’s mobile article recommendations. Chrome for Android or iOS suggests several articles when users open a new tab. Nieman Lab reported that the feature is drawing at least 100 million visits to U.S. news sites every month (and probably significantly more since iOS traffic appears as untrackable “dark social” due to the way the app functions on that platform).
FIND YOUR MOJO: I often share tips, tricks and tools for mobile reporting in this newsletter. But if you’re looking for the motherlode, look no further than the just-released Mobile Journalism Manual. Corinne Podger and a team of trainers spent five years putting together an incredibly comprehensive guide to creating journalism on the go.