November 20, 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.

It’s a hectic week in the United States. Every fourth Thursday in November, which is a wild story of its own, we celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Some Americans treat Thanksgiving as a miniature competitive eating contest with a side of uncomfortable family conversations. Some think fondly about a glamorized origin story in which buckle-shoed colonists were saved by a group of benevolent Native Americans. It’s not a myth that the colonists failed to return that benevolence, so some spend the day mourning

In any case, Thanksgiving is a great annual reminder to be thankful for the things that you often take for granted. And as much as I write positively about tools, I’ve been known to spend entire days complaining about tiny flaws in game-changing products. In the vein of being more grateful, here are a few of the tools I’m most thankful for. You’re probably already using a lot of them. If not, it’s a great season to start.

Social posting: Sometimes you’re looking for the bells and whistles. Sometimes you just need to get things done. Tweetdeck is a workhorse of a tool that fills in the gaps (a few, at least) that Twitter has somehow left open after a decade. Sure, Twitter now will allow me to change my display name to “Ren Michael of House LaForme, First of His Name,” but I have to use Tweetdeck to use multiple accounts, schedule my posts and even see updates without having to refresh the page. Twitter owns Tweetdeck, so why not just make it the default? Oops, I’m supposed to be thankful. 

Social discovery: The journalism world is about to reach the AI singularity when it comes to surfacing content online, but for now Crowdtangle is doing a great job, thankyouverymuch. Crowdtangle is a free tool, thanks to Facebook, for keeping track of what’s happening on social media. I use it to see which of Poynter’s posts resonate and try to replicate that success. 

Mapping tool I know how to use: Telling stories with maps used to be a complicated process. Then Northwestern University's Knight Lab came along and built StoryMap. Picture a slideshow with an attached map that moves as you switch slides. It’s a compelling way to take audiences on virtual tours and give a sense of distance to stories that take place across locations. Oh, and it’s super easy to use.

Mapping tool I don’t know how to use: I’ve noticed something. My friends who work in environmental and geographic fields can churn out detailed and compelling maps in no time at all. Turns out they’re all using ArcGIS, an incredibly powerful tool with about a million applications. I just don’t know how to use it. If only I knew someone who builds training around digital tools …

Most underrated part of a workflow: It seems like none of us realize how integrated Google’s G Suite (full disclosure: Google is a partial sponsor for my gig at Poynter) has become in our workflows until it goes down, like it did last week. Twitter was awash with students, journalists and people from all professions all in a panic about something they’d been working on. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often. From sharing notes with colleagues to writing whole stories, from navigating public records on Sheets to providing a backbone for other great tools, the G Suite is a tremendous and underappreciated part of many journalists’ workflows. 

Might as well be magic tool: Ever wonder how Colbert, Kimmel and others get those news clips to make fun of on their shows so quickly? Stop wondering, because the answer is SnapStream. SnapStream is one of those you-won’t-believe-it-until-you-see-it tools that can literally record every single show on TV to clip, export and share later on. It’s like DVR on steroids. 

Automatic transcription tool: What’s the best automatic transcription tool, you ask? How prescient of you. Read my brand new review of eight of the leading automatic transcription tools for journalists to find out.

Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I wish you a week full of gratitude and things to be thankful for.

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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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