Tools to liberate scholarly articles, help sources understand journalism and publish printable online zines

This week in digital tools for journalism

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.

EXPERT KNOWLEDGE, EXPAT INFO: The vast majority of journalists — 89% — trust academic subject experts as credible sources for reporting, according to Muckrack’s latest annual survey of journalists. But what happens when their academic research, often the grist of our reporting, is behind some kind of impenetrable academic paywall? That’s why Sci-Hub exists. The repository of academic articles — more than 74 million — openly touts its piracy and claims it is fighting inequality in knowledge access around the world. It also claims that many academics use it because the interface is better than paid services. I can agree with that. Do I feel bad about sharing a paywall-crashing tool in a journalistic newsletter? You betcha. More on that topic in coming weeks. (If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Sci-Hub, try the Unpaywall extension or just asking an author for access. They’re often happy to share. And if you’re looking for someone to actually speak to, try Expertise Finder.)

A TOOL THAT WORKS: Sometimes, just to prove I’m not a bot, I step outside of this newsletter to talk about digital tools in person. I spoke at Poynter’s Summit for Reporters and Editors in late April. Stephanie Ip, digital reporter at the Vancouver Sun and The Province, was in the audience and heard me sing the praises of Otter.ai, an automatic transcription tool that has become a must-have for me. And for Stephanie, apparently! Nothing brings me greater joy than hearing that something I shared improved someone’s work, like Otter.ai seems to have done for Stephanie: “Otter has changed my life. My level of anxiety in preparing for, conducting and transcribing interviews has gone WAY down and I find myself more mentally tuned in to the conversations I am having with interview subjects. I don’t think I realized how much unnecessary stress I was causing myself by worrying about whether I was going to miss something or dreading the amount of audio I might have to comb through.”

ANALOG TOOLS: Print out and tack this important sentence from Trusting News’ newsletter to the cubicle wall of your mind: “Each time we interact with someone in the community, it could be that person’s very first time talking to a journalist.” To maximize that experience for the interviewee, you could explain what you do and how the information could be used, start a long conversation about ethics and scribble down your contact information. Or you could just stick to what they’re interested in talking about and give them a handout that covers the rest. Joy Mayer shares one she used at the Columbia Missourian and a checklist of must-have items if you decide to create your own.

While we’re on the subject of printouts, here’s a fun, quirky thing worth trying for special projects. The Zine Machine is a slice of CSS code that makes it easy to create web pages that can be printed out and folded into the classic, low-budget zines of yore.

WHITHER SLACK: If you’re a good employee, you’re probably not spending your days on Reddit (unless you believe that “Democracy Dies in Dankness”). But your audience is, and they’re posting your stories. How do you keep track of them? If you’re The New York Times, you write some code that monitors Reddit and shares relevant posts to your team’s Slack channel. If you’re not so comfortable with code, you can sign up for a CrowdTangle account and set up a saved search for your publication’s URL. Then use CrowdTangle’s notifications tool to push alerts to your Slack channel. Easy peasy, and free.

Speaking of Slack, the workplace messaging tool went public last week. And so did conversations about whether Slack is capital-B Bad. So is your boss monitoring your messages? Probably not. But maybe. Slack doesn’t exactly hand over direct messages and private channels to admins. But it is possible to access them. Here’s how to tell if your messages are accessible to the brass. Oh, and since it’s a holiday week, here’s advice on how to drive yourself absolutely bonkers with your favorite workplace messaging tool.

MAKE TIME: There’s something on your mind. Something you’ve been meaning to get to but just haven’t found the time for. You’re busy. You’ve got work and everything at home and, oh goodness, that commute of yours ain’t helping. But I bet you can find time to do whatever that thing is. If you don’t believe me, try this free time calculator on for size. I’ve just learned that after sleep and work and all of those other things, I have 63.5 free hours left over every week. Now what to do with them?

HIT THE ROAD: If you haven’t seen The Washington Post’s new travel site, By The Way, go check it out. I’ll wait. Pretty great, right? Last week, I wrote about how the Post has reimagined the travel writing formula to fit the modern tourism aesthetic. People want to experience new places like locals, not ever-annoying, fanny pack-wearing tourists. So the Post is bringing on locals to write city guides so you can experience life like a true Parisian, Roman or … Baltimorean.

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