Sift through some of the richer parts of the internet for too long and it can start to feel like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” All the information in the world is right there, but there’s no way to read it all.
It can be helpful to have a guide.
I often turn to Gary Price — a researcher, librarian and founder of Infodocket.com — to help me make sense of it. Price maintains a collection of data and reference documents relevant to current events that he updates near daily. Recent examples include Pew research about the number of foreign college graduates staying in the United States to work, a U.S. Government Accountability Office assessment of cybersecurity issues and a two-pager on European Union trade with the United States from the European Parliament.
Price shared a variety of other data-rich sites that can provide important context and information for beat reporters of all types:
- EconBiz: A database of business studies and economics information
- Research briefings from the UK Parliament: Research reports about myriad subjects, from global financials to Brexit
- European Parliament Think Tank: Offers two-page “at a glance” reports designed to quickly bring readers up to speed on topics of global interest
- GlobalStat: An aggregated database of research from all over the world, sortable by theme
Want more data?
- The New York Times launched a precinct-by-precinct map of the 2016 elections containing vote counts, percentages, comparisons to nearby counties and vivid coloring. It caught a lot of positive attention online last week, but Los Angeles Times reporter and mapmaker Jon Schleuss makes a strong case that it could have been done better.
- There are 29,724 miles of levees in the United States. They average about 55 years old. You might find a good story or two in the Army Corps levee database, especially as public scrutiny on infrastructure grows. (h/t Chris Rogers)
- Still hungry for more? The Discourse in Canada maintains a database of databases for fact-checking and research. It skews toward Canadian sources but includes plenty of databases of global interest in its list of over 200 sources.
40 BETTER HOURS: My dear readers, I’ve tested hundreds of tools over the last five years at Poynter. The vast majority are too expensive, too complicated or too specialized for me to recommend to you. But every now and again, I stumble across something special that changes the way I work. Last week, a tool called Toby joined that very short list. Toby is easily the best tool I’ve used for smarter browser bookmarking and tab management. Just set up a few categories and save your open pages away. If you don’t want to save those pages anymore, close them out from the Toby interface. A cleaner browser begets a more productive journalist. (h/t Rachel Schallom in last week’s Cohort)
FIX THIS: Tech reporting is fundamentally broken. We gasp at 3D TVs that consumers don’t want and ooh and ahh at projects like the far-fetched Hyperloop while ignoring practical public transportation projects. Is it time to scrap the “tech desk?” James Ball at CJR thinks so. “(S)ince technology now touches every aspect of our society, keeping it siloed from the rest of the newsroom now feels artificial. Let it be covered, extensively, across desks.”
PROTECT YOURSELF: Hacking email addresses used to be as easy as figuring out a password. Soon, it might have to involve real-world theft. Google’s Advanced Protection program uses USB-based physical security keys instead of passwords or one-time codes. None of Google’s 85,000 or so employees have fallen prey to attacks since they implemented it. Oh, and they’re pretty darn fun to use, too. Picture a garage door opener for your email inbox.
GO OFFLINE: The best tool for journalism might be the one that turns off all the others so you can actually get some writing done. Nudge is a Chrome plugin designed to make the internet less addictive. Nudge can turn off “addictive sites” (access them in a pinch by moving a long sliding button), visualize time spent on those sites, hides bits of sites that demand attention and straight-up delete Facebook news feeds.
SLACK ATTACK: Before Slack, there was HipChat. Now they are one and the same. Just a few years ago, Slack and Hipchat went to war over the title of the best workplace messaging tool. But on Feb. 15, 2019, HipChat will shut down for good and direct all users to Slack.
GET PAID: Freelancing is hard enough as it is. You might as well know how much the organization you’re thinking about pitching will pay you for your work. Who Pays Writers crowdsources anonymous figures from publications around the globe. It also lists how easy or hard it is to collect payment, how long it typically takes and tips for pitching to various organizations.
ROBOTS RISING: There’s a silent battle raging around you every time you visit Amazon, Walmart or any other online shopping site. Scraper bots attempt to sneak in and snag prices, while the site’s defenses try to systematically raise and lower prices to confuse them. Some companies have even gotten humans in on the act — users who download “MP3 Cutter from Beka for Android, for example, are given a choice: View ads or allow the app to use ‘some of your device's resources.’” Your phone’s resources might be used to trick sites into seeing bots as humans so the bots can more easily capture accurate prices.
INSTASLAM: Ad spending on Instagram has exploded, growing 177 percent year over year. Why does this matter for journalism? First, even though Instagram outpaced Facebook (which increased 40 percent year over year), both are growing. Though some of those advertisers are undoubtedly new, like those flashy ads for clothing that turn out to be garbage upon arrival, others are likely switching away from traditional ad mediums like news organizations. Second, Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has plenty of advertisement issues of its own.
ORBITAL PALANTIR: Oil stockpiles. Dust in the air. Crop yields. Cars in Six Flags parking lots. Satellites are smaller, more powerful and cheaper to launch into space than they’ve ever been. And, apparently, they can track just about anything.
FROM POYNTER: My colleagues at PolitiFact are launching a daily email on Wednesday. Get the best fact-checks right in your inbox from Monday through Friday every week.