February 4, 2019

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.

Electronic Mail

HOW TO DO THIS, BUT BETTER: This newsletter started on a steamy Florida afternoon in the summer of 2017 after about three conversations and a stroke of inspiration from “The Price is Right.” I’m sure most newsletters are born after a bit more thought. In hindsight, I’d encourage that. We’re doing just fine, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been if I’d had newsletterguide.org, a “201 guide” for journalistic newsletters, on that haphazard afternoon. The guide covers all bases, from making the case to bosses all the way to evaluating metrics and monetizing. It even includes open source newsletter templates for those of us whose design organs never reached maturity.

NEWSLETTER, THE APP: Newsletters are like potato chips in that it’s near impossible to consume just one (and in that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them). My inbox occasionally overflows with hundreds of unread messages, each one full of links that someone has decided I need to click through to read. But what if newsletters didn’t appear in your inbox? If it sounds counterintuitive, it is — that’s kind of the whole point of an email newsletter. But I just started testing an app called Stoop that liberates newsletters and places them in their own easy-to-navigate, white-space-aplenty app that doesn’t constantly scream for attention. If you can’t stand the thought of unsubscribing but need to clear out some space, Stoop could be the answer.

INBOX, MANAGED: If your email problems extend beyond newsletters and you’re a GSuite user, check out Andreas Klinger’s method of using Gmail more efficiently. Klinger keeps his main inbox empty by marking his emails off to four different boxes: todos, those awaiting replies, those that have been delegated and emails related to miscellaneous tasks like meetings and flights. The method is a little too regimented for me, but it seems like a great plan for those of you who are fans of “organization.”

TURN OFF, TUNE OUT, DROP OUT: If all else fails and you’re about to drown in PR pitches, newsletters and requests from students, take a breather on the national day of unplugging on March 1. Or use the nuclear option, email debt forgiveness day, on April 30.

Practical Applications

SORTED PORTFOLIO: If you’re a freelancer or work for an organization that you suspect might wipe its presence from the face of the internet (like Gothamist briefly did), it’s crucial to keep copies of your published work. That can be a task. But there’s a tool that makes it easier. For eight bucks a month, Authory automatically grabs all of your articles from any website they’re published on and makes backup copies of them. It also allows other uses to subscribe to you personally, so your fans can get notifications about your latest work even if they don’t follow all of the publications you work for. And, as of Monday, Authory also automatically provides social media analytics about every article, too, among a handful of other new features. It’s a worthy investment.

CAL TECH: As is the case with many of the tech giant’s tools (I could dedicate an entire newsletter to Google Earth), Google Calendar is riddled with hidden features and shortcuts, some of which PC Magazine documented last week. A few of the most handy:

  • Google Calendar can automatically email you an agenda that lists all of your daily events at 5 a.m.
  • A built-in tool can find a time that works for everyone who is invited to an event, similar to Doodle.
  • Pressing “t” while Calendar is open will take you back to today. And a “/” automatically opens up search.

The following is a dispatch 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.

SPICE UP YOUR TEXT: Beautiful Dingbats gives your text an ??????? ?????. You insert text on their website, which makes a copy in several ????????????? ????????? ???????? (including even ??????????ℊ ?ℴ??). You choose a font and insert it wherever you want.

THE BIG GAME: Those of you who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday night might have noticed something that I talk about a lot here — robots. TurboTax’s robot learned he could never grow up to become a CPA. Michelob Ultra’s robots can’t enjoy their beer (and neither can I, for the record). An Alexa lookalike calculated the many possible combinations of Pringles flavors but couldn’t enjoy the taste of a single stackable potato chip. What does it mean?

First off, it means that Americans are familiar with the little buggers. About 53 million of us have invited some type of artificial intelligence into our home, and that number is much higher if you count the Siris and Google Assistants in our pockets. Second, the prevailing thought seems to be that humans are superior to our metallic companions. Sure, a robot can count good, but the little dummy can’t even taste. Ergo, we are better.

Is that good-natured ribbing of a creation by its creator? Or just a way for us to assuage our fears? I don’t know.

But I do know that, after watching these short films, I’m more immediately concerned about humans inundating other humans with augmented reality ad explosions than I am about an Alexa-Siri-Google Assistant alliance taking over the world.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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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…
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