November 5, 2018

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Salaries for the mayor of Chicago ($216,210) to bus drivers at the Chicago Transit Authority (from $21 to a whopping $191,668) are now available an incredibly comprehensive public employee salary database thanks to an Illinois nonprofit. The Better Government Association sends FOIA requests to hundreds of Illinois-based government bodies every year to collect this information. They make it available to the public and provide tools to explore it. It’s a public service that every state should have and, in fact, many do. Kinda. We have something similar here in Florida (though it seems to be lacking basics like mayoral data). So does New York (where my high school history teacher apparently rakes in a cool $71,006). There’s a database of federal employees, too. Got one you use often? Email me and I’ll put together a list.

FIRST WORDS: Acid-washed. Beer goggles. Paintball. I was born the year that these fun terms, and many more, were first used in print. Merriam Webster’s Time Traveler tool tracks first known use dates for English words. And while it’s interesting to pick up the dictionary to see that “science” was first used in the 14th century, it’s much more illustrative to see that we first wrote about “Botox” as recently as 1994. Would Shakespeare be proud? Maybe he’d be pumped (first printed in 1984).

HEAR ME OUT: Anyone with a Blue Yeti and Audacity can put together a good podcast. But it takes a bit of skill to make a truly great one. NPR’s excellent training site (seriously, howisthisfree, bookmark the whole thing already) has a new guide to mixing audio that is better than anything I’ve seen in any textbook or tutorial video. In audio terms, mixing is probably the biggest difference, besides talent, between a Kendrick Lamar album and your neighbor’s lo-fi Soundcloud mixtape — it’s one of those things where everyone can hear the distinction, but you can’t quite explain why one’s better.

40 BETTER HOURS: With the growth of email, videoconferencing and tools like Slack, workplace communication has shifted away from mouths and toward fingers. Admit it, you probably DM your colleagues who sit right next to you just as often as you talk to them (hi Kristen!). Those technological changes have come swiftly and fiercely — our culture has been slow to adapt. Our parents taught us to say please and thank you, but not to be more emotionally transparent in messages because our remote colleagues can’t see our facial expressions. Adobe’s 99u, a fantastic resource for modern workplace advice, has more about this and seven other ideas for improving virtual communication.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Go back up your phone. Like, right now. I’ll wait. It literally just takes a couple taps of the screen and can save you from gigabytes of headaches later.

  • If you have an iPhone, you have two options. For the easier, cloud-based solution (don’t use this if your phone is full of information about sensitive sources or if you’re a member of the Trump administration and you’re attempting to obstruct justice) go to Settings, your name at the top, iCloud, Backup and turn on iCloud backup. You may need to pay for more storage, but it’s only three bucks per month for 200 gigabytes. You can also just plug your phone into your computer, open iTunes and create a backup from your device’s iTunes tab.
  • Android users, navigate to System, Advanced, Backup and tap Back Up Now. You also have the option to automatically back up photos and videos to Google Photos and files and folders from Google Drive.

TOP TOOLS FOR 2018: These tools will only appear in the email edition of this newsletter. Sign up to get Try This! — Tools for Journalism (and my top 10 tools) in your inbox every Monday. If you’re unable or unwilling to sign up for some reason (maybe your inbox looks something like mine and you’ve considered lighting the whole shebang on fire), don’t worry. I’ll post the complete list to the website at the end of the year.


Try This! is 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…
Ren LaForme

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