May 19, 2017

We’ve talked about a lot of tools in the last few months, and this week I tested one of them out for myself (see the very end.) Have you tested any tools we’ve talked about? My colleague, Ren LaForme, and I would love to see the results.

What new thing are you going to tell us about today?

Today’s tool is going to make you feel like you’re a spy with secret cameras hidden all over the internet.

That sounds amazing.

Yeah. There is information on websites that is potentially useful to you as a journalist. But what’s more interesting is when something changes on a website, right?

Think of a staff page for a local corporation, or a staff page for a local government or even the federal government site, even the White House site, with everything that’s going on there. It’s interesting what’s on them, but what’s even more interesting is when they make a change quietly.

There are a couple of tools that let you monitor changes on websites without having to visit those sites on your own. My favorite one is a tool made by The Marshall Project. They do such great work on criminal justice reporting. It’s called Klaxon. Have you heard of Klaxon?

Yeah, Poynter’s Ben Mullin wrote about it when it first came out.

I’m really liking it. They’ve just enabled team support, and I think it’s getting better by the day.

For people who haven’t heard of it, how specifically does it work? What does it do?

It (takes) a little bit to set up, which we can talk about in a minute. But once it’s set up, you go to a webpage and you get this bookmarklet, you know those little things you put in your browser? Google Analytics has one. You click the bookmarklet, and this tab comes up, and you highlight what you want to keep an eye on. Hit save, and it will tell you when that thing has changed.

And how does it tell you?

You can set it up in different ways. I have mine set up so it checks the page every 10 minutes and sends me an email if something’s changed. This is obviously not something you would want to do on a really heavily changing page. You wouldn’t Klaxon a homepage. But for other pages, it’s really, really useful.

Is there a fee to sign up for Klaxon?

Klaxon is entirely free. The Marshall Project made it to help journalists everywhere, and a lot do. They said The New York Times uses it, The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press, all kinds of places.

Are there any things that you don’t love about this tool?

I try to only share tools that don’t involve any coding or anything like that. This doesn’t necessarily involve coding, but there is a bit of a setup process.

There are similar tools to this, but a lot of them will run on your browser in the background, which takes up a ton of memory and makes your computer really slow.

Klaxon uses sort of a virtual server that you have to set up in advance. It sounds intimidating, but if you go to the Klaxon page on Github, they walk you through step-by-step. It’s probably easier than putting together Ikea furniture.

One of the reasons this may appeal to journalists, particularly those in newsrooms that have been cut and cut, is that keeping tabs on your beat and sources is something people have less and less time for. If you can automate that process, hopefully you can spend that time producing great journalism.

Yeah. This is you putting your eyes and ears in as many places as you want at once. Staffing changes are a classic example of a great way to use this. Local governments or other places may want to keep those kinds of things hush-hush, but they do change it on their page.

It’s like having a person in that room.

Are there other tools people should know about, just as different options?

Page Monitor is similar, but it’s much easier to set up. But like I said, this one hogs a bit more browser space, and it’s slow your computer down.

There’s also VisualPing, which is connected to Page Monitor. If you look into those, I think you’ll see those might be helpful to you if you really are intimidated by the setup process.

There’s also, which is useful for some things but the least useful of these because you can’t specify a part of page.

Is there anything else about this tool that we should know about?

If your team’s on Slack, and I think people are increasingly on Slack, it allows you to install an integration. So instead of sending you an email, it will send a message to a specific Slack channel, which I think is a lot more helpful. It’s not hogging up space and everyone on your team could have access to that channel.

This is probably a good time to keep tabs on what’s happening in the government at every level.

Seems like there’s a job change like every three minutes. This isn’t the best way to find out when it happens, but I suspect in some cases, it will be.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here. Got a tool we should talk about? Let Ren know!

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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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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