November 13, 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.

If you’re doing any work with primary source documents, or really any records at all, you’re probably already using DocumentCloud. If not, you should rectify that immediately. 

DocumentCloud is a free document storage service, built by and for journalists, that busts open the possibilities of what you can do with your documents. It adds context to things mentioned in documents. It sorts dates onto a timeline. It lets you annotate your work and share with readers to show them how you know what you know. It’s the first digital tool I worked with when I started at Poynter.

It’s also about to get an upgrade. As part of an impending move to Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, the Knight Foundation is giving DocumentCloud $250,000, Sean Stroh reports. The money will pay for new features and help to build out a payment model, though its cofounder, Aron Pilhofer, says there will always be a free version. 

Pilhofer reminisced about DocumentCloud’s humble beginnings in an interview with Bob Andelman.

“At that time, the technology that most investigative reporters brought to a deep document story would be a yellow legal pad and a highlighter,” he said.

NEW TOOL, FOUR STEPS: You know that awful thing where you update an article but it still shows old information when you post it to Facebook? Or that thing where Facebook doesn’t seem to recognize an image when it builds a share card? Or do you hate being surprised by what appears when you share an article? That’s all fixable! 

  1. Make sure your article is properly updated and published.
  2. Visit the Facebook debugger, paste your article’s URL and hit “debug.”
  3. Verify that the post looks like you’d like.
  4. If it doesn’t, make any necessary changes and hit “scrape again.”

A similar tool is available for Twitter. Happy posting!

HISTORY LESSON: It was originally built for Macs, not Windows. It played a role in launching the 2003 Iraq war. They called it Presenter. Today, we know it as PowerPoint. Love it or hate it, PowerPoint is a ubiquitous tool with a surprisingly compelling origin story.

LET’S GET META: Thinking of starting a newsletter? Got one that just isn’t working? Follow Revue’s tips for personal newsletters and you’re sure to get started right. The post is full of great ideas, but here are a few I try to follow every week:

  • Send your newsletters from your own name so you don’t sound like some corporate drone.
  • Focus mostly on text and less on design. You’re trying to give people just the info they need.
  • Talk like a human. Cool? Cool.

RIGHT CLICK SAVE: Thousands of articles about topics like important city council votes, abuses of power in prisons and reports of the happenings that glue communities together disappeared from the internet when Joe Ricketts unceremoniously shut down DNAinfo and the Gothamist network earlier this month after the sites voted to unionize. The archives have since been restored, but the Freedom of the Press Foundation is taking steps to make sure the world doesn’t lose any more articles with its MIT-licensed “gotham-grabber” tool. 

BAD NEWS: The folks at Mozilla put together a holiday shopping guide. Unlike other festive offerings, this one exists mostly as a warning. Don’t use this as an excuse to be a luddite, but your gifts might be spying on you.

LAST WEEK: Newsrooms have been using online polls for a while. But a mishmash of common errors means they’re mostly useless. But a new tool called Veracio uses data from the U.S. Census to correct for demographic weighting, which is one of the more common issues. 

Despite claims from our youthful government, this year’s inauguration didn’t have the largest crowd. Perhaps the White House should check out before making any more claims about crowd sizes. Oh, and it’s great for journalists, too.

Editor’s note: I’ve been tweaking the format of this newsletter bit by bit. I went from a silly introduction to a more substantial one that served as an intro for my first item. This week, I decided to just turn the whole intro over to the top-billed tool. Do you love it? Hate it? Want to see more or less of something else? Please let me know what you think. I respond to every message. 

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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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…
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