January 14, 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.

CHAT ROULETTE: The Washington Post just announced it would launch a new chatbot and a second collection of journalism-themed stickers on Viber. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering what the heck Viber is. It’s a Japanese-owned, Israeli-started, Luxembourg-based messaging and voice chat app that claims more than 1 billion users. It’s the third most popular messaging app in the world, behind WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and the top app of its type in parts of Eastern Europe. One of its more popular features is sticker packs, collections of static or moving images based around a theme. The Post’s include classic journalism terms like “off the record” and the Pinocchio illustration from its fact-checking blog. Why? “We’ve seen great potential to grow our audience internationally,” said Ryan Kellett, director of audience and a senior editor for the Post.

SHORTCUTS: After smashing my old iPhone 6S against the corner of my desk last week, I decided to join the headphone jack-less masses and buy a modern iPhone. While searching for tips on how to use the darn thing (why is the Control Center on the top right now?!), I stumbled on Apple’s Shortcuts app, which makes it possible for users to combine complex strings of actions that can be enabled through Siri or a quick button press within the app. It can be complicated, but there’s a great Reddit community with pre-built shortcuts. On the basic side, it means you can finally use Siri to operate Spotify (a feature the service still somehow lacks). On the more complex, you can set up a voice command to instantly text your location to a trusted friend, start recording and put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode if you’re being pulled over by the police. It seems like a must-have for journalists in dicey scenarios like protests or riots.

40 BETTER HOURS: Everyone has his or her own organizational strategy, but grouping tasks by project is a pretty universal method. And that’s probably the best way to tackle most things. But if you’re working on a bigger project, especially if it’s a creative project with some flexibility, consider organizing your to-dos by mental state. Author and podcast host David Kadavy assigns tasks to labels such as “prioritize,” “generate,” “explore,” “research,” “polish” and “administrate,” which he moves between based on how he’s feeling at any given moment. By matching a task with his mental energy, he finds he’s able to boost his productivity. Personally, I organize projects by prioritizing whichever app notification is the most annoying.

GET SOCIAL: The people behind Buffer, a handy suite of social media management tools, took a dive into its data and pulled out five trends for 2019. The two most important social media trends for journalists:

  • Social media stories — think the ephemeral posts pioneered by Snapchat that have since been forcefully borrowed by Instagram and the like — will keep growing. Stories are a great way to engage audiences who might not otherwise see your work but they require some additional planning.
  • Vertical videos and social “television,” like Instagram TV, will also expand this year. Why vertical videos? Because turning a phone sideways is a hassle for viewers. Seriously!

Buffer also says to look for artificial intelligence to take over rote tasks (like responding to customers), an increase in social media advertisements (adding to Facebook’s multi-billion dollar revenue stream), and a rise in coordinated marketing across all social channels.

ADS WITHOUT MALICE: Whether you view online advertisements as a useful revenue generator or as an escapee from one of Dante’s circles of hell, there’s no denying that some ads are just bad. I’m looking at you, pop-ups and loud autoplaying videos. That’s why Google teamed up with Coalition for Better Ads to block maliciously annoying ad types for North American and European Chrome users last February. In July, that feature will go global.

  • At the risk of sounding like Seinfeld, do you know what else is annoying? Those Chrome notifications that ask you to enable desktop notifications. Turn those off wholesale by navigating to Settings (or Preferences on a Mac) > Advanced > Content Settings > Notifications. Tick the “Ask before sending” button and BoredPanda won’t bug you about signing up to receive the latest funny pizza box drawings ever again.

JUST DO IT: Let’s keep the pet peeves rolling. One of the best ways to miss out on time that users could be spending on your website is to write an article about a location and NOT include a map. Think about it: If you write a restaurant review and include an address, a good chunk of readers are going to head to Google Maps to look up its location. Ditto with things like car accidents, events and just about anything that takes place somewhere in the physical world. It takes just a few seconds to grab the embed code from Google Maps or, if you prefer a static image, to take a screenshot (just make sure to provide attribution and to not alter the map outside of Google’s software). Don’t miss out on those precious “time spent” seconds.

  • Got a journalism pet peeve you’d like to share? Let me know, and I’ll acknowledge your message in three weeks because I am miserable at answering emails (which might actually be your pet peeve!).

KEEP IT SAFE: After I ranted about how important it is to use a password management tool like LastPass yet again last week, independent journalist @alexdimarzo wrote me from Argentina to share why he uses a tool called KeePass to keep his team’s passwords safe: “The more important security issue is that it is open source, so you are not trusting an external organization with your security. The community regulates its encryption capabilities. Even though a software development company can have the best of intentions, its own security can also be vulnerable.” He found KeePass works easily across multiple devices from multiple employees and has a handy autotype feature. The price tag, a reasonable zero dollars, doesn’t hurt either.

On a serious note, I was recently reminded of how important it is that we talk about mental health, especially in an industry that’s been pinned as having a “mental health epidemic.”

In a conversation about mental health and journalism a few years ago, The Carter Center’s Rebecca Palpant Shimkets told me that journalists are like first responders in many ways: We’re often the first on the scene, we bear witness to countless types of trauma and throughout it strive to maintain a sense of professionalism. But while many first responders have access to programs designed to help them work through that trauma, most newsrooms don’t, and journalists have a tendency to soldier on to the next story without giving it much thought. That can be dangerous.

If you’re reporting on a traumatic topic, turn to The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma’s great self-care tips for news media (they’re helpful even if you’re not a reporter). Take note of any irregularities in your behavior. Talk it out with someone you trust. Seek help if you suspect something is off. If the trauma becomes more immediate, there are hotlines in almost every country in the world that can help at a moment’s notice. Or you can talk to a friend. A colleague. A family member.

The old journalistic ethos that we don’t show emotion is worthless and harmful, and we reject it. Talk to someone. Take care of yourselves. You’re the most valuable asset to the journalism community that there is.

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…
Ren LaForme

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