February 19, 2018

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.

Five years ago we were all obsessed with watching the Harlem Shake. On YouTube, that is. Facebook wasn’t yet a big player in the online video realm. Ten years ago we were still messaging mostly via AOL Instant Messenger, Gchat and Skype, because Facebook didn’t add a chat feature until April 2008.

Oh, and the iPhone, the device that brought pocket computing to the mainstream, was only a few months old at that point. It didn’t even offer apps yet.

Fifteen years ago? Only about half of us even had cell phones. I almost missed an important interview at my first internship because the man was outside painting his own political lawn signs and didn’t hear his house phone. How different have our lives become in just a few years?

As U.S. senators turn their eyes to Facebook, the favorite social network for Russians seeking to disrupt American democracy, it’s hard not to reflect on how fast things have changed.

And at the pace these platforms/publishers/tools (that’s a debate for someone else to take up) change, it’s unlikely that we’ll have time to stop and reflect anytime soon.

Just take a look at what Snapchat, one of Facebook’s only serious competitors, was up to last week.

  • They launched a web version of the Snap Map, opening up public Snaps to anyone with a laptop and a browser.
  • They pushed a controversial update out to all users. The update combines Snap Stories and individual Snaps to friends, much to the chagrin of many, many users.
  • They began offering more data to “influencers” who use the platform. Lack of meaningful analytics has long been a complaint of news publishers who use Snapchat.
  • A phishing attack that snagged tens of thousands of Snapchat user credentials was revealed.

And those are just the changes that we know about. With north of 180 million daily users, some of which take the social network very seriously, little changes made to Snapchat ostensibly affect the lives of a lot of people. But what about Facebook, which claims 1.4 billion active users?

Technology’s sweeping and relentless changes keep plenty of people up at night. But is anyone out there sweating the small stuff?

Here’s my take: Sweating the small stuff is a fast-track to losing focus. Talk to your teams, make big-picture decisions about what to use (tools, social networks, everything) and when to use it, and set a period six months down the road to reflect and adjust as needed. Everything is going to keep changing. The key is knowing when to change with it.

THANKS?: Speaking of social networks constantly changing, Facebook just announced that it’s adding a few new features. The first, public lists, seems a little silly on its face but could have useful applications for journalism. Many newsrooms have embraced bulleted lists as a useful story format, or at least addition to a story, and the ability to use them on Facebook could be a potent way to draw audiences’ attention. The second is, erm, a lovely feature. Though I don’t think it has any potential for professional use.

SPAMALOT: Someone was demoing a digital tool for me the other day when I noticed his inbox had about 20,000 unread emails. I laughed, but only because I can commiserate. I tried using Unroll.me a few years ago to catalog and unsubscribe from all of the mailing lists I wound up on but stopped when reporters found that the service sold information about users’ Lyft usage to Uber. The inbox kerfuffle last week reminded me to see if anyone has created an adequate replacement. Turns out there’s an open-source solution. Go forth and unsubscribe!

VIEWS: If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a 360-degree image worth more? RoundMe is a repository of many, many 360-degree photos from around the world (here’s a look at the Dali Museum, right around the corner from Poynter). The site exists as a source of stock images but I’ve been using it for story and travel ideas and inspiration for 360-degree work I’ve been considering.

FLY AWAY: I talk almost exclusively about work in this newsletter. But you’re a better worker if you’re unstressed. A few years ago, I co-created a project about workplace happiness called 40 Better Hours and learned that one of the best ways to manage stress and boost productivity, especially in stressful professions like journalism, is to take advantage of vacation time. I’ve been looking for journalism-salary-friendly flights to Paris and have found Scott’s Cheap Flights to be a wonderful resource.

DIGITAL DETOX: “Smartphone notifications have turned us all into Pavlov's dogs.” If that isn’t a stunning and reflection-inducing sentence, consider the fact that an average adult checks his or her phone 50 to 300 times a day. It might be time for you to consider a digital detox.

LAST WEEK: I’ve been feeling a little bit like that Robin Williams .gif from Jumanji lately. You know the one. I spent the last few weeks chatting with employment lawyers, recruiters and more to see if an old-school email domain (think Hotmail, Yahoo and Outlook) have any effect on hireability. I found out that they shouldn’t, but they do.

On the stock photo story front, my colleague Kristen Hare also chatted with a photographer about how the industry has changed and what we can do to be ethical and respectful of visuals and the people who make them.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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