October 23, 2018

VISUALIZE THIS: The scariest day of the year is almost here in America. I’m talking, of course, about the day after Election Day, when all of the ghastly and ghoulish attempts at visualizing the poll numbers appear on front pages, websites and broadcasts around the country. There’s a tool out there for those who don’t want to be part of the throng of designers providing free entertainment for Twitter. It’s called Flourish, it’s free for journalists, and an intern there very kindly put together seven ways to visualize the midterms. Just recreate the existing charts (a one-click ordeal), punch in the new numbers and publish to your site (or wherever).

+ Sometimes a visualization just speaks for itself. The New York Times mapped every building in America. What more is there to say?

READ AND REPORT: The U.S. Census Bureau estimated 39.7 million Americans lived in poverty in 2017. That’s 12.3 percent of the total population. If the top 100 newspapers in the country ran a front page story about an impoverished American every day, it would take more than 1,000 years to write about them all. But poverty is pertinent to almost every beat, so why limit it to the front page? The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication put together an online resource, drawing from journalists and teachers around the country, to assist in improving poverty coverage on any beat.

INVESTIGATE THIS: Investigative Reporters and Editors shared some wonderful tips for investigative reporting on a budget at the LION conference earlier this month. Besides the helpful list of free tools, IRE listed some of the most popular paid tools and their free equivalents. For every Excel, there’s Google Sheets. For every ArcGIS, there’s QGIS. It’s a succinct toolkit for a data journalist in training or anyone trying to cook Momofuku on a ramen noodle budget.

40 BETTER HOURS: What tools are high-flying members of the journalism community using? Whitney Richardson, a New York Times photo editor turned events manager, uses the Google Suite on her phone for file sharing, presentations and notetaking (and often on her phone no less). That’s something we can all learn from. Her team also used 100 cameras to build a 3D version of a model’s runway walk. As Richardson notes, that’s not likely something most of us can pull off (for now), but it’s interesting to see what’s out there.

+ Millions of people in America alone are living with an undiagnosed mental disorder. And while they might not know, their phones could. A new app (only available for those with certain medical plans) called Health by Mindstrong monitors how people use their phones and can alert doctors to anomalies. File this one under “things that came straight out of a ‘Black Mirror’ episode.”

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Twitter just dumped a massive dataset on Russian and Iranian foreign influence campaigns in elections around the world. It includes more than 10 million tweets, broadcasts, GIFs and more from nearly 4,000 Russia-affiliated accounts and 800 Iran-affiliated accounts from the past decade. Sample tweets show memes and trash posts that even I, an expert on internet garbage, wouldn’t have thought twice about. The dataset is available for exploration but comes in at more than 300 gigabytes, so watch that hard drive.

YESTERDAY’S NEWS: Sometimes a story needs just a pinch of timely ephemera. Most of us have seen how “Forrest Gump” used real-world events to great effect. And “Amélie” set the stage in the late ’90s by leading with Princess Diana’s death. The same techniques work for news, especially when working on an article about an event from the past. Between websites, almanacs and internet searches, there are plenty of modern sources to find out what was happening on a given day. But what’s better at capturing the daily spirit than Twitter, truly the all-in-one newsstand, soapbox and execution square of our times? A tool called Trendogate can surface data on what was trending in various locations around the world on specific dates from mid-2015 onward. It’s a little buggy and often shows topics without a discernible order, but useful nonetheless.

The following is another tool from a friend of the newsletter, Burkhard Luber, a lecturer in international politics and international crisis areas based in Germany. Got an item you’d like to submit? Email me.

FOCUS: Just Read for Chrome extracts the essential content of a website. It removes distractions like the page's styling, ads, popups and comments. The result: You read the article in a simplified format, which in most cases is what you want, right? (Editor’s note: If you’re a Firefox or Safari user, it’s even easier. To activate a similar feature in Safari, look for the icon to enable it on the leftmost side of your URL bar. On Firefox, it’s on the rightmost side of the URL bar.)

Try This! is 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 Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

More News

Back to News