March 25, 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.

You’re probably either hunting for fresh commentary on Robert Mueller’s report, counting pennies for Apple’s big new subscription push or crunching numbers to see if you can still win your NCAA bracket. I’ll keep today short.

OLD AND NEW: It’s one thing to provide audiences with an image of something that has experienced change — a world leader after eight years of service, a city’s skyline after a decade of prosperity, an eroded cliff in coastal England. It’s a whole other thing to allow audiences to interact with that new reality overlapped with the old, like Vox did with a map of flooded Nebraska and The Jakarta Post did with new takes on classic Indonesian dishes. The differences become starker and the comparisons more appealing. And they’re incredibly easy to build — Knight Lab’s JuxtaposeJS makes these interactives just a few clicks worth of work. For those with a little coding knowledge in search of a more custom approach, try TwentyTwenty.

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER: I’ll admit that I fit a few of the stereotypes for millennial journalists. Most notably, I’m flummoxed whenever I google someone and can’t turn up any contact information. Who ARE you, mystery person, and why isn’t your email address splattered across the internet so I can send you a message that you’ll ignore? Before I lace up my shoe leather and turn to more traditional methods, I check in with a few apps in search of contact information. The latest in my toolbox is Contact Out, a plugin that surfaces email addresses and phone numbers for LinkedIn users. If the person isn’t on LinkedIn, Hunter.io is my next step. It searches for contact information by employer.

THE TAKEAWAY: The number of things we know about our audiences has grown immeasurably since the early days of publishing. And though we may be able to determine deep demographic data and track every click our audiences make, one thing we still don’t know — through no fault of Google Analytics, Chartbeat and the rest — is arguably the most important thing of all. Do our audiences actually understand what we’ve published? A new tool called DigInThere is trying to assess that with post-article quizzes, which also have potential uses for solving other problems in journalism: comment trolls, withering attention spans and meaningful connections, to name a few. Here’s a fun example that features both David Bowie and Star Trek from The Los Angeles Review of Books.

SHE SAYS, SHE SAYS: Women are quoted less often than men in the news. In January, we wrote, “Internationally, only 24 percent of news subjects — people who are interviewed or whom the news is about — are women.” If you’re looking for an expert source, check the Women’s Media Center SheSource first. It’s kind of like Mitt Romney’s binders full of women but, you know, actually helpful.

EXTREMELY PUBLIC RECORDS: FOIA nerd Twitter lit up last week when a Daily Beast reporter tweeted that the city of Gainesville, Florida, publishes emails sent to its mayor and city commissioners in a searchable online database. There are some caveats, like that officials must designate emails to appear in the database, but it’s certainly a potential timesaver and provides an interesting glance at what elected officials are looking at on a day-to-day basis. They don’t call us the Sunshine State for no reason.

CLOCKING IN: Here’s an idea to adapt and steal. Scientists in the United Kingdom uploaded scans of more than 5,000 old paper weather records to a research site in an effort to digitize the records for analysis. The site, Zooniverse.org, employs volunteers to help professional researchers. The scientists hope to “unlock answers to questions about (the UK’s) weather and changing climate.” Imagine what could spring from digitizing old articles, classifieds or obituaries, especially on the local level.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST:

  • typing in lowercase letters can be a profoundly political move. it can convey intimacy, trickery, casualness and more. or it could just mean the person typing is lazy. the cut takes a deeper look at this anti-capitalist (heh) phenomenon.
  • This newsletter is about all things digital (please don’t sue me, Kara Swisher), but paper ain’t going anywhere. Copyblogger writes: “Paper persists because it’s easier to print a receipt than get a customer to enter their email address. Paper persists because an emailed love letter doesn’t have the same meaning.”
  • What do you call your Alexa (or Google, or whatever)? My favorite fake internet judge, John Hodgman, says his family calls theirs “Our Electronic Friend,” because “if we wake her by accident, we have to go still and silent, as if we are evading a really helpful T-Rex.” I don’t have a home voice assistant, but Hodgman’s reasoning for why his family has one seems sound enough.
  • I’m going to start using the Danish word “pyt” — pronounced like “pid” — when dealing with life’s numerous digital tech problems. CMS running slow? “Pyt! I’ll go schedule some tweets.” Miss a call because my phone battery died? “Pyt! That article would have been boring anyway.” The word doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it’s akin to “oh, well” or “stuff happens” or Kurt Vonnegut’s “so it goes.”

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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