March 5, 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.

Can I take my foot out of my mouth now?

Last week I wrote about how I hadn’t seen any wow-inducing stories in a while. I mused that digital storytelling seemed to be in the midst of tweaking and refining rather than one of revolution.

Well, ask and it will be given to you, I suppose.

Some of you wrote back to share some packages that, while rooted in the new standards of digital storytelling that seemed to arise in the early tens (is there a consensus on this decade’s name yet?), are unquestionably revolutionary in their own ways.

A few that really made me gasp:

  • Finding Home / Heln’s First Year starts with a birth in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece and ends with a first birthday in another camp in Germany. Baby Heln’s story is told mostly through emotional short videos and startling personal text messages.

  • Can we talk about the gender pay gap? relies on a series of user-friendly charts, illuminating fact-checks and helpful explainers to highlight the depth of the pay gap problem and just how wrong deniers are.

  • Millennials are Screwed is a wacky, outside-the-box look at just how unlucky my generation has it, presented in a way that feels innately familiar. As one of the few articles that I’ve heard my non-journalist friends obsessing about over the past few years, I can’t believe I overlooked it.

The newsletter was getting a bit long so I wrote more about these and more in a separate article. Thank you so much to everyone who shared.

PHONE IT IN: Automatic transcription tools seem to be in some sort of arms race. I’ve heard from at least a half-dozen new ones since I reviewed some of the top ones last year. But a tool called Tetra just changed the game. Call someone from within the app and Tetra creates a transcript of that call in just a few minutes. It even warns the receiver that you’re recording before the call starts (great for two-party consent states). While similar tools seem to struggle with phone and computer audio, Tetra proved to be reasonably accurate (I’d estimate about 90 percent) in our tests.

AROUND THE WORLD: Once, while flying into Chicago for work, I noticed that the plane had moved northwest of downtown and realized that we’d be landing at O’Hare and not Midway (a nasty surprise when you have a friend waiting at Midway). Another time I arrived at the airport a full 12 hours late because I misread an “a.m.” as a “p.m.” Needless to say, I am not an organized traveler. So it felt like technology threw me a lifesaver once again when I started using TripIt. I forward all hotel and plane emails to the service, which sends me notifications and updates via its app.

40 BETTER HOURS: Red dots once took over my college. They started out small — quarter-sized stipples on handrails and hallways — but quickly spread until a crimson moon overtook a quarter of the arts building’s western wall. It turned out to be an elaborate campaign for herpes awareness, but I couldn’t help but make a few direct comparisons when I read about how little red dots on our phones are dangerous … and spreading.

Perhaps the best antidote for a troubling red dot is a relaxing blue one. Open this and watch and do nothing else for a few moments the next time you’re feeling stressed (and check the “about” page for a little added fun).

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Gather a group of data journalists and you’ll find that you have a motley crew of people with wildly different educational backgrounds, experiences and ideas. Which is why I deeply admire this initiative to unify them under a common set of principles.

WHIP IT GOOD: The only thing better than knowing how an online article is performing across social networks is to know that information before it has already happened. NewsWhip’s subscription Spike tool offers that feature, but the company also just launched a free Chrome tool to make the feature available to all. I predict that NewsWhip will tell me this post will reach 3.2 billion people once it’s posted (but I’d settle for half that).

FOLDED CORNERS: I sometimes feel like I need to put on a helmet to read my Twitter feed. And not just because of my angrier followers. The darn thing moves so fast that I’ll see a tweet and plan to go back to share it later and promptly forget about it or lose it within minutes. So I’m pretty excited about Twitter's new native bookmarking tool.

LIVE FROM POYNTER: There’s still time to sign up for our course on how to use Facebook Groups to build online communities. It only takes an hour to watch and won’t cost you a buck.

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