February 26, 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.

It’s journalism awards season and, so far, my jaw remains undropped.

Previous years have brought us fresh and breathtaking digital projects like Fatal Force, a Washington Post investigation into police shootings (there’s a 2018 counterpart); After the Storm, which focuses on the aftermath of disasters; and of course The New York Times’ loved-and-then-loathed Snow Fall, which inarguably expanded the definition of what online storytelling could do.

We’ve seen some thrilling games (Bloomberg’s American mall game is my favorite), bots (not sure it qualifies as a proper bot, but Quartz’s app is top notch) and a focus on video (I loved The Wall videos from the USA Today Network) and social. They all push the boundaries of journalism and tell stories in new and powerful ways, but they also feel like natural extensions of what’s come before. 

The histories of culture, evolution and computing have all been marked by great leaps forward followed by periods of tweaking toward perfection and, sometimes, a struggle against change. Maybe digital journalism is experiencing a lull, too. 

We saw the latter with Snow Fall. The initial reaction was awe, followed by mimicry. Then came the questions. Did anyone actually finish reading it? How bad were those load times? Was the story that compelling? We’ve been tweaking Snow Fall toward perfection ever since, its seeds scattered across the internet like a dandelion in the wind. How many digital stories have you seen with an opening autoplayed image? 

This isn’t at all to say that the storytelling is weak. It’s not. Stories like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein, Jay Caspian Kang’s reporting on an Asian-American man’s hazing-related death and the mass collaboration to cover the Paradise Papers show that reporting is stronger than ever.

But where’s the digital wow factor? Where are the formats that challenge our expectations about storytelling? 

Have we learned our lesson and finally elevated function over form? Have we been so culled of resources that we don’t have it in us? Are we too focused on one or two big national stories to do much else? Or am I just suffering from an acute case of digital myopia? 

I’d love to be wrong about this. What am I missing? Send me the most innovative stories you saw over the past year, whether they have come from your newsroom or are from someone else you admire, and I’ll feature them next week.

CLASSIC TOOL, MORE USEFUL: I’m constantly sharing directions with colleagues, visitors and sources. Sometimes I send them an address. Other times, it’s a series of directions (turn right after the big red tree until the dead end). So I felt really dumb this morning when one of my best friends showed me a button on Google Maps I must have overlooked a hundred times. 

  1. Open Google Maps on a browser
  2. Enter a starting location and an ending location
  3. Click the “Send directions to your phone” link below the blue directions box
  4. Pick where to send it and then forward that information to your contact

This is also great for sending complex directions to your phone. Who wants to type a bunch of addresses out on that tiny keyboard?

WORKPLACE HACK: We all have that one coworker who constantly bugs you when you’re on deadline, the one who’s suspiciously immune to the physical and verbal cues telling him or her to go away (if you don’t know who it is, it might be you). Wrangle back your time and sanity with the Nope Button, a handy Chrome plugin that will call your phone when clicked. Look, I don’t feel entirely good about this one but sometimes they just don’t get the cue. (h/t Victor Hernandez

GET SOCIAL: It seems like Twitter purged its service of many, many bots last week. While some users cried foul over losing hundreds or thousands of followers (I previously wrote about how to tell if fake users were following you), the social giant announced a change to some of its rules. Most notably: Don’t tweet the same thing from two accounts. This applies to simultaneously posted tweets as well as asynchronous ones. It might get you flagged as a bot. If you’re a Tweetdeck who does this, fret not. The tool won’t even allow you to publish the same tweet to multiple accounts anymore.

Facebook face recognition

PROTECT YOURSELF: Facebook keeps alerting me about its Face Recognition feature and how it can protect me from strangers using my photo, among other things. As someone who’s been plastering my mug all over Facebook since 2005, I’m only minimally concerned about privacy because I’m fatalistic about it — they already have more than enough about me to do whatever they want. But if you’re a little more guarded, here’s a guide to turning the feature off. 

LIVE FROM POYNTER: Speaking of Facebook, we’ll be holding a free training course about how to take advantage of Facebook Groups to build loyal and engaged audiences in just a couple weeks. Hannah Wise from the Dallas Morning News will be here to talk about how DMN built a group of more than 1,300 subscribers. 

LAST WEEK: What is a newsroom photo policy? When is it okay to use a stock photo? Is it ethical to use a photo of a generic police car for briefs about criminal activity? I spoke with Cathaleen Curtiss, the photography director for the Buffalo News, about some important questions about photojournalism. 

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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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