Tools to record the (virtual) world, clean up your Google searches and quiet your phone when you need to focus

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.

People often ask where I find all of this stuff. The answer is everywhere. Articles. Social media. Other newsletters. Pitches. Google. Direct recommendations. Conferences (and eavesdropped notes from conferences I didn’t go to).

I sometimes feel like Rey from Star Wars, zipping around vast wastelands (and the occasional Imperial II-class Star Destroyer) in search of useful junk. Who it goes to, what they do with it — I almost never find out. I just drop the links at the outpost and wait for my portions.

So let’s get right to it this week. Here’s some useful junk! Don’t worry about the portions.

TRAVEL THE (VIRTUAL) GLOBE: You could spend hundreds of dollars on a helicopter ride. You could spend dozens of hours getting a commercial drone license. Or, in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the price, you can fire up Google Earth Studio to get that illuminating aerial shot. The tool — which has been free to use for news, research, education, and nonprofit use since late last year — makes it easy to create animated of locations all over the world.

I made a video that flies across Tampa Bay to Poynter in about a half hour or so with no prior experience. It’s not exactly something I’d encourage my mom to hang on the fridge, but another hour or two of work would shine it right up. (h/t Burkhard Luber, a lecturer in international politics and international crisis areas based in Germany.)

SHARE EVERGREEN CONTENT: Some of the most popular news isn’t new. It’s true at Wired, where Indu Chandrasekhar, the director of audience development, shared that 40% of visits are to content that’s at least a week old. And it’s true at Poynter, where stories about AP Style changes from years ago occasionally bubble up into our top posts. Haley Correll shares the Times-Picayune’s best practices for surfacing, saving and sharing evergreen content, including a template to get started. And Melissa Bierly from Parse.ly shares how users of that analytics platform can easily hunt down the best evergreen stories. I’ve found that evergreen posts are great for nights and weekends, and that it’s a good idea to let audiences know that you’re resharing archival content — they’re more than happy to point it out if you don’t. 🙃

SEARCH BETTER: A few years ago, Yahoo Answers seemed to dominate search results. While the questions and answers were often funny, they often weren’t valuable for much beyond cheap entertainment (and a peek into the lives of some of the most confused among us). These days, it seems like faux health news sites and other low-quality click mills have mostly replaced Yahoo Answers as the chaff of the internet. Block junk sites from appearing in your search results with Chrome plugin uBlacklist. You’ll have to add sites to the list one by one, but if you’re a beat reporter or work in a niche industry, I bet you already have a few in mind.

SCOPE OUT NONPROFITS: Investigating nonprofits just got a lot easier. You can now search the full text of nearly 3 million nonprofit tax filings with ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer database. Some of the sexiest uses: Search for the names of nonprofits who have given money to other nonprofits, or dig in and see what for-profit companies a non-profit has an ownership stake in. As ProPublica puts it in its announcement, “the possibilities are nearly limitless.”

SILENCE YOUR PHONE: Every iPhone has a built-in feature that disables notifications and auto-responds to messages when its user is driving. Based on the driving of those around me, I’m convinced nobody uses it, at least in Florida. But even if you don’t drive, that feature is hackable. The folks behind Brick, a grassroots movement to engage in the “real world,” share how to use it to turn off your messages and turn on an auto-responder when you want to focus on getting work done.

SEE THROUGH JOURNALISM: Megan Garvey, managing editor of KPCC and LAist, is committed to public service. So is her newsroom. She asked them to think about who and what they cover and then write their own mission statements, which she published on Medium in a tour de force of transparency and audience accountability that you should go copy right now. But what about the folks in your communities who can’t or won’t check out your news? Cécile Prieur, a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford and deputy editor for Le Monde, suggests expanding media access through institutions like libraries, working to help readers understand journalism better and making media literacy a top priority for all journalists. Easy peasy, right?

ANIMATE THE DATA: A few weeks ago, I shared Google’s Data GIF Maker tool. Aaron D’Andrea, a reporter at the North York Mirror, wrote back to share that he tried it out on an article about a barbeque joint and again on an article about a community center. The Mirror’s designers have been creating static graphics for certain stories, D’Andrea said, but the Data GIF Maker provided something different. “Here’s a tool that is available to me now in which I can just create something for online that’s interactive,” he said. “[Sources and audiences] liked it because it’s something they haven’t seen in a story. My colleagues in the newsroom said the same thing.” The numbers showed that stories with embedded data GIFs performed better than those without. “When you scroll through a story and you see something that you haven’t seen before or you see something that makes you want to look … that’ll encourage you to stay on a bit longer,” D’Andrea said.

Have you used a tool that you learned about in this newsletter? Please, please, please send me a note and tell me all about it. 

REINSTATE WONDER: USA Today took us to space. It put some of Hollywood’s best costumes on our desks. This time, USA Today is transporting us to the football (soccer, my fellow Americans) pitch. The news organization’s newest augmented reality experience is all about the Women’s World Cup tournament, offering a meet-and-greet with Team USA and an interactive AR game in which users try to stop penalty kicks as Alyssa Naeher, the U.S.’s famed goalkeeper. As Apple and Google make it easier (and cheaper) for developers to build augmented realities, I expect news organizations to create some awe-inspiring experiences for audiences. Based on what they’ve already done, I’m sure USA Today will be leading the charge.

JOIN THE ACADEMY: Applications for Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media close this Friday. Here’s what you should know: It’s free, we’re working with The Washington Post as a teaching partner this year and Marty Baron of “Spotlight” fame is going to be a speaker. You should apply.

NWS IN BRF:

  • Earlier this year, I surmised that Spotify’s purchase of Gimlet could change podcasting’s future. The streaming media giant just started testing curated episode suggestions around specific genres. That could change the way people consume podcasts and introduce podcasts to the many, many people who still don’t regularly listen to them.
  • In 2017, I compiled the best automatic transcription tools for journalists. Some worked better than others, and all were better than nothing, but none of the tools could transcribe phone conversations. That just changed. Trint, the tool that I found to be the most accurate, just added call recording to its list of features.
  • The U.S. National Park Service uses a really cool typeface. Now you can download and use that really cool typeface, too.
  • A while back, I suggested Station as a tool to collect all of your web apps in one place. If that one didn’t quite do it for you, Shift might work better. It’s pretty similar but offers support for plugins like Boomerang and Grammarly, and has a killer universal search feature. (h/t Fuzz Martin)
  • Last week, I shared an item in which Sean Blanda made the case that building an audience is job insurance. But I forgot to include a link to the actual article. Here it is!

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