June 25, 2018


  • “We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information.” That line and a handful more in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion in Carpenter v. United States will likely have digital ramifications for years. The ruling likely covers other types of data, such as internet searches and text messages, all of which law enforcement can now only access during “exigencies.”
  • Battery vampirism. Nagging auto-play videos. Ads that creep on your every search. If the internet seems worse lately, that’s because it is. The folks at Mozilla came to that conclusion around a campfire a few years back and decided to rebuild Firefox to solve it.


  • China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua News, is one of the largest in the world. It’s available in eight languages and has bureaus in 170 countries worldwide, in addition to all of China’s provinces and regions. It also employs artificial intelligence called “Media Brain” that can gather, edit and distribute news and collect feedback. And now, CJR reports, that AI can generate news videos in as fast as 10 seconds. I don’t think I need to spell out for you what that means for the future of propaganda.
  • IBM, meanwhile, created artificial intelligence called “Project Debater” that can best a human in an argument. The software (is that even the right word anymore?) doesn’t actually understand the argument it makes. Instead, it combines elements of completed debates with information gleaned from sources like Wikipedia to form cogent arguments. Sounds like it could give my Twitter trolls a run for their money.  

FIRE WITH FIRE: Addicted to your phone? An increasing number of apps exist to help you fix that. If it sounds counterintuitive to solve a problem by heaping more of the cause of the problem on, you’re right. But they actually work pretty well. I’ve recommended Forest and Moment here in the past.

FACEBOOK GOLD: Hoaxes about premium features on Facebook have been circling the internet for a solid decade. Now, at least for Facebook Groups, they might come true. TechCrunch reports that certain Groups admins can charge users $4.99 to $29.99 per month to access exclusive posts and content.

40 BETTER HOURS: Things start to feel a little more difficult on some weekday afternoons. I’ve used this interactive self-care guide a few times and realized it’s mostly because I often forget to drink water. No matter your symptoms, bookmark it for a diagnosis and some helpful solutions for whenever you’re feeling down.

MAKE TIME: A whopping 97 percent of leaders said being strategic was the most important part of an organization’s success. But 96 percent of leaders say they lack time for strategic thinking. It’s a problem that rings from the upper echelons of the largest news organizations to the bottom of the masthead at the smallest community news organizations — if strategy is so important, why don’t we make time for it? (Personally, I’m too busy debating artificial intelligence on Twitter.)

THE SSMW: Author and management professor Kathleen Kelley Reardon watched as men reacted to the #MeToo movement by feeling threatened and adopting unhelpful tactics like the “Pence Rule,” in which men refuse to meet with women alone. She theorized that these issues stem “from a lack of understanding about what exactly constitutes harassment.” To solve it, she made a tool called the Spectrum of Sexual Misconduct at Work to help people define and differentiate between gender-based offenses in the workplace.  

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Maybe you’re a journalist reporting on international events. Maybe you’re just trying to keep up with it all. Whatever your interest, the Global Observatory is one of the best sources for keeping track of all the big things. Most helpful is a monthly list of key events.

HOW IT’S MADE: A scientist who looks a lot like an elongated Dr. Bunsen Honeydew from the Muppets is maimed and mangled by the rolls of a printer at the top of a February New Yorker article about why, in 2018, we’re still dealing with annoying paper jams. It’s worth a read, as is a follow-up story about how animator Daniel Savage transformed an abstract concept into an engaging article topper in just seven days.

BANHAMMER: The largest news subreddit has banned links from all of McClatchy’s publications, potentially costing the company millions of pageviews a month. Moderator LuckyBdx4 accused McClatchy’s journalists of “spamming articles.” If you regularly post to Reddit on behalf of your news organization, make sure you’re caught up on the “reddiquette” for the whole site (and keep an eye on the rules of each individual subreddit, usually tucked away on the lower right of the subreddit’s page).

CAN THE SPAM: Late last year, someone emailed me to ask if, as a journalist, I had problems keeping up with the pitches in my inbox. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. My responses helped shape InMoat, a tool to protect inboxes from unsolicited and irrelevant public relations pitches. If you cover various lifestyle beats, you can sign up for a private beta to check it out and shape its future.  

TOOLS FROM IRE: I teamed up with Samantha Sunne to teach a session called “The tools and apps every reporter should know” at IRE a few weeks back. If you couldn’t make it, here’s a list of everything we covered during our talk.

IF THIS IS HELPFUL: The folks at Google provided generous support to help us get this newsletter off the ground. Now, a year into our grant, we’re hoping to renew this effort so we can keep you up-to-date on the latest tools and digital news for journalism. Have you used anything from this newsletter, tools-related articles on Poynter.org or any of my training sessions in your work? We’d love to hear about it.

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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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