The Try This! newsletter turns two years old this week. What’s next?

This week in digital tools for journalism

August 13, 2019
Category: Tech & Tools

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.

This week marks two years of Try This! — Tools for Journalism!

In mid-August 2017, I held my breath and sent a welcome email to the 100 or so bold souls who signed up before we had even figured out what this would be.

Since then, we’ve been through one major hurricane evacuation, at least one minor scandal and three different editors (all of whom I appreciate very much). We’ve also grown by a magnitude of 100 since that first email, which I guess isn’t too shabby.

Whether you’re a new subscriber, a newsletter veteran, or some internet cables got crossed somewhere and you found yourself here unexpectedly sometime along the way, please know that I really appreciate your readership. Not everything I share is for everyone, but I consider it a big success if you take one or two things away from here every week.

Two years in, there are a handful of changes on the way. Expect a redesign and possibly a slight tweak to this newsletter’s name sometime this autumn. There are already a few to-dos on my list: I’m aware of some lingering issues with reading this on mobile (though you’re reading this version on the web, where all should be good) and know that some of you would love to see images up in here. But if anything else comes to mind, please let me know.

I’m also going to be out of the office for most of October and am taking the opportunity to experiment with some themed editions. One will be digital tools for planning and taking vacations (on the cheap, naturally), something we all need these days. Another will be a best-of list featuring some of this newsletter’s biggest hits. Got another idea? Let me know!

Now let’s stop with the chit-chat and get to why you’re actually here — digital tools, trends and news.

TEXTING THE NEWS: A video interview is one thing. A Q&A is another. Neither feels as personal, or as fresh, as this BuzzFeed newsletter in which editor-in-chief Ben Smith interviews presidential candidate Tim Ryan via text message. Sure, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to do, but I dig the format. It seems like you get a better sense for who Ryan is and what he’s like just from the way he texts. This idea — and the elevated version as seen in Time’s 2017 piece “Baby Heln’s First Year” from Aryn Baker, Lynsey Addario and Francesca Trianni — is a good one to borrow and employ to help audiences better understand a person.

WRITING FOR SEARCH: Search engine optimization is dead. Or it is at least as you knew it from the two-thousand-and-lates, when you were advised to cram keywords into a headline like a clown car dictionary. The key to grabbing traffic from Google and, um, Google these days is semantic search. In plain English, that means that people search like they talk. Instead of “Poynter digital tools newsletter subscribe,” folks are searching for “How can I subscribe to Poynter’s digital tools newsletter?” A lot of this is driven by the rise of voice search, like Alexa, Siri and “OK, Google.”

FREE PASSWORDS: When it comes to all things passwords, LastPass has been my tool of choice for half a decade. It creates, stores and manages passwords for me, so I don’t end up writing easy-to-crack ones or recycling them across multiple sites — both big security risks. If you’re in the market for something similar, but are turned off by LastPass’ cost or corporate ownership (it’s been part of LogMeIn’s “GoToMeeting” empire since 2015), BitWarden might be a better fit for you. Stavros Rougas, co-founder of Expertise Finder and a friend of the newsletter, recommends it as an open-source alternative.

EDIT O’CLOCK: Just a few years ago, creating and editing videos was unfathomable for most people. Equipment costs were high, software was difficult to learn and then, even if you managed to overcome those barriers, what did you do with your videos? Submit them to Cannes and hope for a laurel wreath? Cheaper digital cameras and Apple’s iMovie changed but didn’t quite revolutionize the industry. Then came cell phones with high definition cameras. And then Vine. And Tik Tok. And now, Tik Tok isn’t just democratizing video editing, it’s reshaping the media world.

NEWSLETTER BETTER: It’s been almost a year and a half since I last wrote about Substack, a minimalist newsletter provider and subscription service. The site’s popularity has exploded since then, with more than 50,000 paid subscribers, a recent and significant round of funding and the migration of seemingly every other newsletter to which I subscribe to its platform. In the wake of the Gannett/GateHouse merger announcement, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie wonders what it might look like for local news organizations to build a new business model with his newsletter tool. It’s thought-provoking, but I’m not sold that Substack is up to the challenge just yet. I use the tool to publish a small personal newsletter and find that the analytics are still a little too barebones. But just like this Hadean media climate, I’m sure that’ll change.

UNDER THE RADAR: If you’ve been using your browser’s incognito mode to avoid the prying eyes of the tech giants, it’s time to think again. The feature essentially works by keeping your online history from being saved to your computer. The sites that you visit can still see everything that you do. Instead, you should compartmentalize your browsers. Use one browser for all the sites you log in to, another to browse the web, etc. Then use a variety of plugins to keep your information safe. It’s kind of a lot of work, but reclaiming your privacy once it’s gone is even harder.


Buffer, the social media management tool, now allows users to save and manage hashtags for Instagram. #yasss #glowup #isincerelydontknowwhatimdoing

Wavve, a tool for transforming audio into more social-friendly video, now offers podcast homepages. They’re great for users and much easier to set up than other similar sites.

You’ve almost certainly seen this by now, but the on-again, off-again relationship between Facebook and the news media is back on. The tech giant will pay news outlets “millions” to license content that will live on Facebook’s servers. Hmm. To quote my friend and Tampa Bay Times editor Ernest Hooper, “That’s all I’m saying.”

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