January 28, 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.

I’m trying something new this week. Instead of the usual grab bag of tech tools, trends and tips, I’m sharing two big buckets of topics with various items within them. Let me know what you think.

Practical Applications

NO BACKGROUNDS: Sometimes you just need a headshot or portrait without all of the detritus behind you. Obviously you could open Photoshop and fiddle with the background eraser until you get the settings right, or use the selection tool and refine the edges, but who has time for that? Just upload a photo to remove.bg, sit tight for a few seconds and then download the resulting image. The good: The site promises not to mine user data, uploads images through a secure connection and deletes the originals an hour after the upload time. The bad: It currently only works for human faces (sorry, pooches) and outputs are limited to .25 megapixels (about 500 by 500 pixels).

iSHOP: Speaking of Photoshop, iPad owners can soon toss out the competitors and sharpen their Apple Pencils, because a desktop-quality version of the world-class photo editing software is coming to Apple’s tablet soon. Adobe built a sign-up form for the app, so you can be the first to know when it lands.

AS BIG AS A…: Numbers can be pretty meaningless when it comes to illustrating the size of something. That’s why we use tangible approximations when we describe sizes of things in our work. But if you’re like me and haven’t exercised in an Olympic-sized swimming pool in years and have no idea what a bread box looks like, the old standbys might feel a little flat. That’s just one possible problem that the Dimensions Guide, a database of real-world dimensions, can solve. Just imagine: As tall as a two-door refrigerator. As long as a Volkswagen Golf. Your options for comparisons are now as big as a Brachiosaurus (a whopping 15.24 by 14.63 meters).

MISCHIEF CONTENT MANAGED: When it comes to content management systems, WordPress reigns. (Disclosure: Kinsey Wilson, president of WordPress.com, serves on Poynter’s board of trustees.) It’s free, relatively easy to use, allows for limitless customization and offers pre-built plugins to make that customization easier for the code-inept. And it’s about to get better. WordPress is launching a version of its CMS called Newspack that’s customized to help small- and mid-sized newsrooms with some of their biggest obstacles, including revenue generation.

WIGGLE ROOM: You can move multiple iOS apps across pages and into folders at once. I did not know this. You might not have either. This knowledge has gifted me a much more organized iPhone, and I wish the same upon you.

Social Hour

FOLLOW HIS LEAD: Nick Confessore is an investigative reporter at The New York Times who has reported on data privacy and social media. His findings have changed the way he uses technology. Notably:

  • He uses an iPhone, because Android phones are “voracious and arguably unscrupulous collectors of information.”
  • He turned off location tracking for almost all of his apps.
  • He uses DuckDuckGo instead of other search engines.
  • He installed the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger plugin to protect his web browsing from third-party snoopers.
  • He deleted all Facebook-owned apps from his phone.

If you’re interested in maintaining an iota of privacy online, these and Confessore’s other tips are without a doubt the best place to start.

FACEBOOK FLEXES: Facebook, for its part, is continuing its fight to bolster its platform against malicious parties and Macedonian teenagers. Its latest update will display “page quality” that shows if a page has had posts removed for violating standards or had posted false information debunked by third-party fact-checkers. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the Poynter-hosted International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for fact-checkers to join that project.) Facebook will also take a harsher stance against those who violate its standards.

The following is a dispatch from a friend of the newsletter, Burkhard Luber, a lecturer in international politics and international crisis areas based in Germany. Got an item you’d like to submit? Email me.

PUBLISHER’S FINAL PUSH: Mathias Döpfner, chairman of Germany’s newspaper publishers’ association BDZV (and CEO of Axel Springer, co-owner of Politico Europe) said in an interview with Germany’s dpa newswire that he reckons big tech firms are increasingly willing to accept that they have to pay for the content that’s on their platforms. And “Google in particular, recognizes that [paying for content] would be a comparatively easy constraint on their business model.” He added: “For Google and Facebook there is a very low price to pay, but for publishers it is an existential requirement to establish digital business models.”

A GOOD EXAMPLE: Let’s leave on a good note. I met one of the founders of the Buenos Aires-based RED/ACCIÓN in November and was immediately smitten with the digital news site’s mission and implementation. RED/ACCIÓN seeks to fight “infoxication,” the overwhelming amount of news, in Buenos Aires. It does that through a design-heavy site and social media presence that distills the news and produces a forward-thinking product that focuses on solutions. Pay special attention to RED/ACCIÓN‘s Instagram, which might be the mejor ejemplo of how journalists can innovate on the platform.

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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