March 12, 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.

We visit doctors when our bodies feel bad. We take our cars to mechanics when something’s clanking.

But we put up with bad technology every day.

Why do we do it? Are we so beaten and battered from Siri’s little disappointments and a handful of unproductive chats with the IT folks to put up more of a fight? Or perhaps our bad content management systems have worn the sharpness of our complaints into smooth, seething acceptance.

I often look at what we abide and think of Martin Seligman’s poor experiment dogs and their learned helplessness to the pain of electric shocks.

But, despite the fact that it may seem to sometimes, technology isn’t going to improve on its own. Every minor upgrade and bug fix started with somebody somewhere saying something to his or her tech team, or filing a short report, or just squeaking enough to get a little bit of grease.

If there’s something that bugs you about your CMS or phone or some tool, set aside five minutes today to file that report or shoot an email to the developers. Then do it again tomorrow.

Someday we’ll have the technology we deserve. But it’s going to take an effort from all of us to get there.

NEW TOOL, FOUR STEPS: Does anyone else feel compelled to pull out the old phone and take a panoramic shot any time you stumble upon a sweeping view? A quick glance of my photo library shows the Cliffs of Moher, the Country Music Hall of Fame and a Buffalo Bills game. But what to do with them? There are a variety of tools that can display panoramic and 360-degree images, but possibly the quickest and easiest is Knight Lab’s SceneVR tool. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Take a panoramic or 360-degree image using your phone or a specialty camera like the Ricoh Theta.

  2. Upload the image(s) to Flickr.

  3. Visit the Knight Lab SceneVR website and follow the directions (yes, I realize this adds a few more steps and invalidates my “four steps” gimmick but phooey).

  4. Embed the resulting code on your website.

AUTO-NAY: I stopped using ad-blockers a few years ago because I didn’t want to take money away from news organizations but also realized there was no way I could whitelist all of the news sites I visit in a time-effective way. But, folks, I have reached a breaking point with the auto-play videos. Forcing people to watch something is an abdication of responsible user experience in pursuit of a quick buck. Here’s how to turn off all auto-play videos on Chrome and Firefox (note that this is browser-wide, meaning you may have to click through to watch things like YouTube and even gifs and also that some videos will still auto-play because the internet is still largely the Wild West). h/t chevy_followclosely on Reddit

  • Chrome: Visit chrome://flags/#autoplay-policy, click the box next to “autoplay policy” at the top of your browser and choose "document user activation is required.”

  • Firefox: Visit about:config, click through the warranty screen, search for “autoplay” or scroll to find the setting called “media.autoplay.enabled,” and double-click it or right-click and “toggle” to set to false.

  • If you’re a Chrome user but this all makes you queasy, don’t fret. Google is working on a version of this that you won’t have to think too hard about.

JUST THE FACTS: If you’re the type of person who might get excited about a database of databases, today’s your lucky day. Discourse Media, a Canadian independent news company, just released a spreadsheet full of databases for research and fact-checking. For each, Discourse notes what type of information is included, the region it’s useful for, handy tips and whether an account is required.

MONEY IN THE BANK: It’s hard out there for an independent writer or reporter. Besides doing the actual work you want to do, you have to figure out how to display your work online and how to get paid for it. Or maybe not anymore. I wrote about Substack, a newsletter service that makes it easy to write and send newsletters and charge people to read. Even if you have a solid full-time job, this is a great way to make some side money by writing about something you care about that’s outside your beat.

ANTI-SOCIAL: Look, Twitter has about a million faults (and some really great things, too) but at least you don’t have to pay to use it. Right? Yeah, sorta. It’s probably no surprise that someone found a way to screw even that up.

FROM POYNTER: This is the last time I’m going to bug you about joining us for our special one-hour training session on how to use Facebook Groups to grow loyal and engaged audiences. Hannah Wise will be here to talk about how she and the folks at the Dallas Morning News have been kicking butt in this arena. Did I mention it won't cost you a dime?

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…
More by Ren LaForme

More News

Back to News