April 2, 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.

Plenty of people have asked me about my favorite tool for journalism. And plenty of times, I’ve lurched through an answer that I didn’t truly believe.

There is no “best” tool for journalism. Interactive timelines, second-by-second analytics measurements, automated social posting — they’re all just bits and pieces of an equation that has one, simple solution.

Create work that’s meaningful to your audience. Present it in a way to enhance clarity, interest and ease of use. Make sure it’s working.

That’s why I think The Marshall Project’s new publication is so revolutionary, even though it looks so much like the same old, same old journalism.

News Inside is a print product for people in jails and prisons. The news inside News Inside is catered to information-starved incarcerated people. It’s a low-frills, no-charge print publication, because people inside jails and prisons typically don’t have access to the internet or budgets for subscriptions. It’s carefully curated so it won’t run afoul of prison administrators’ stern eyes for inflammatory materials.

It’s lively, it’s beautiful and it’s wholly considerate of its audience and their needs. And that’s what all of these tools are working toward.

If it seems like there’s a lot of Google news in this week’s newsletter, that’s because there is. The Google News Initiative hosted its annual summit last week and launched some interesting new tools. Here’s that, and more.

BEETS AND PARSLEY: If you’re a Google Analytics organization but you’ve been jonesing for Chartbeat or Parse.ly’s handsome and informative real-time analytics interfaces, I’ve got good news for you. Google launched a new interface for Google Analytics. It offers more real-time data about your website’s performance and a nice fullscreen mode that’s a perfect compliment above any ink-stained cubicle.

GIFS AND DATA: Interactive charts and graphs can make data a lot more appealing — but they often come with a devil’s bargain. If the tool shuts down or the code is depreciated, your fun little visualization could fall off the face of the internet. GIFs, on the other hand, have been around since 1987 and are here to stay. Google just updated its Data GIF Maker to include some new (and fairly odd, which you know I dig) visuals that are great for comparisons. They only allow up to four items, limited to a handful of colors and themes, but they also only take a few minutes to put together.

POST AND MAIL: More good news for the roughly half of you subscribers who use Google’s email service: Gmail is finally adding email scheduling. Now you can write your emails at midnight and send them after 8 a.m. so you don’t look like a workaholic (and put pressure on the rest of us to do the same). Oh, and for those inclined to type less — of which I am guilty as charged — the Smart Compose feature is coming to Gmail’s mobile versions. (Editor’s note: Now if Gmail could just add autocorrect … )

NAMES AND PLACES: A long time ago at an internship far, far away, an editor handed me a torn piece of computer paper with the partial name of a local high school on it. My assignment was to drive out into rural Western New York to find the school, meet a man in a news van and return with a tape with highlights from the night’s big high school football game. I was given this assignment three times. I got lost three times. They sent someone else after that. Given that same assignment in 2019, I would have loaded all of the local high schools onto a Google Map list and found them with ease. And though I just needed to find Iroquois High School, lists have nearly limitless pre- and post-publication potential and are easy to build.

PAPER PUSHER: How does The New York Times manage to post big news shortly after big document dumps, like when a judge unsealed hundreds of pages of documents about Michael Cohen? Its interactive news team uses an optical character recognition tool called DocumentHelper to turn documents into searchable files. DocumentHelper is an internal tool, but the Times helpfully links to a bunch of other tools that anyone can use. You’ll probably want to stick to the desktop or cloud service tools unless you can speak code.


  • Apple News+ launched last week. One news organization you won’t find on it: The New York Times. “We tend to be quite leery about the idea of almost habituating people to find our journalism somewhere else,” Times CEO Mark Thompson told Reuters.
  • I shared the Women’s Media Center SheSource last week, which aims to get women quoted in news stories more often (only 24 percent of news subjects around the world are women). More than one reader wrote in to let me know there’s a Canada-specific resource that could also be of help.
  • I also shared that UK scientists uploaded scans of more than 5,000 paper weather records and were crowdsourcing digital versions. It turns out that the National Archives and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working on something similar in the United States.
  • I need some crowdsourcing assistance myself. A professor from Tennessee wrote in to ask for a recommendation for a textbook for an intro to digital media class. Any ideas?

MORE FROM ME: I’ll be sharing some helpful tools to improve your workweek in a Poynter webinar next week. For a small fee (and the cost of having to look at my wagging jaw), I’ll show you some of the most useful tools in my kit and provide some examples of how you can put them to work. Join us on Thursday, April 11 at 2 p.m. EST.

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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