September 5, 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.

I’m always tempted to write something about how it’s “Tool Time” here, but I don’t think Home Improvement references are culturally relevant anymore. Ugh. Let’s just get right to it.

IRL TOOL: It doesn’t matter that your fancy iPhone 6s can record video in a 4K resolution if it looks like you’re filming from Evel Knievel’s sidecar. The single best (and cheapest) way to improve the quality of video shot with your phone is to invest in some sort of tripod or stabilizer. I have one of these grippy, utilitarian tripods. It consistently seems like it’s about to break. But, at the not-so-hefty price of $7, it doesn’t hurt to keep a few around. Whether you’re setting it on a desk or hanging it from a street sign, it gets the job done.

ON MY RADAR: I’ve been running the iOS 11 beta on my iPhone 6 for a few months. While there are still some bugs to work out before its public launch this fall, there are also some upcoming features that will be handy for reporters.

  • The control center (swipe upward from the bottom of your screen) has gotten an overhaul and is now customizable. I added Voice Memos and Notes to mine so I don’t have to hunt for them when I’m trying to interview someone.
  • Clicking the lock button (the one that you hold to turn your phone off) five times in quick succession now brings up a menu to turn off your phone, access your medical ID or make an emergency SOS call. More importantly, it quickly disables Touch ID, making it more difficult for law enforcement to force you to unlock your phone.

WEIRD AND WONDERFUL: I was half asleep when the rest of the world was refreshing Taylor Swift’s homepage to see if her new single had launched. Then I got an announcement message from her on Line. The free call and messaging app, which is huge in Japan, doesn’t have much of a foothold in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped publishers like CNN (5 million followers), Time (1.2 million followers) and Business Insider (980,000 followers) from signing up. Most stories shared via Line seem to focus on international news, travel and technology. Or getting revenge on Kanye West, apparently.

ADVICE: We chatted about digital tools on the members-only Poynter Slack channel on Thursday, where I answered a great question about how to make the case to higher-ups to adopt a new tool. Here are some tips from the chat.

  1. Do some reporting on the tool and pitch your boss with the knowledge they need to know. What’s in it for them? Will it save time? Money? Provide audience data?
  2. Anticipate your boss’ questions and concerns. Make sure you have good answers. It helps to practice with a colleague.
  3. Be honest. Journalists have been promised that tools will solve all of our problems for years, and we're sick of it. Don't present what you're offering as a panacea when it's probably not.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Selene Arrazolo works at, a data collaboration and sharing tool that I recently profiled. Last week, she put together a list of Hurricane Harvey resources with the help of an organization called Sketch City. Here’s why she did it, in her own words:

“I am a Houstonian, and the night the hurricane landed I could not sleep (my cousin was sitting on her roof not being helped) so I was on Reddit, Twitter and streaming local news trying to figure out who to call. I was finding lot of misinformation on Twitter and Facebook. Specifically, a 1-800 number that was to an insurance company in D.C. or Virginia or something. It was infuriating because people were in life-and-death situations.

“So, I started making a list of official phone numbers, and during that process I found different lists of shelters floating around, so I started making a list of shelters and then building the Harvey Resources dataset of links to different sources that I was making and also finding."

LAST WEEK: It’s one thing to use an app to tell a more interesting story or take a better picture. It’s a whole other thing to use one to save a life. Rescuers in Houston and surrounding areas have been using an app called Zello to find people who are trapped in floodwaters. My colleague Kristen and I talked about it in our tools chat this week (and another colleague, Al Tompkins, provided a tour of the app).

ON TAP: We’re going to experiment with livestreaming short training sessions focused on digital tools on Facebook Live and YouTube soon. If you have a suggestion for something you’d like me to teach, let me know.

As always, remember you can hit me up if you’d like help with something, have a cool new tool to share or want to tell a story about how your jerk colleague absolutely refuses to adopt a tool that you introduced even though it will totally make his life much easier. Just send me an email.

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.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News