Here are 30+ tools, tips and resources for journalists to try this summer

A special edition of the Try This! — Tools for Journalism newsletter written by Jeremy Caplan from CUNY’s Newmark Grad School of Journalism.

June 9, 2020

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 Tuesday? Sign up here.

Welcome! This is Jeremy Caplan writing. I’m helping out this week with some new tools and tips. I’m director of teaching and learning for CUNY’s Newmark Grad School of Journalism in New York City and a former Time reporter. I’m constantly exploring new stuff and I write about the most useful tools I find in a new mini newsletter called Wonder Tools.

If you’re covering protests or helping others who do, the Journalist’s Toolbox from the Society of Professional Journalists has an excellent collection of resources and a brand new YouTube channel.

If someone you know could use a smile this week, try messaging them with JazzKeys, a sweet and simple new free service that turns a message you type into jazz.

The tool I’m most looking forward to in June is Hey, a new service for streamlining email from the creators of Basecamp, a popular project management tool. The founders posted a manifesto and listed 25 problems with email that their new tool will help solve. The first invites go out on June 15. Sign up by emailing iwant@hey.com.

Given Zoom fatigue, several new services are racing to provide hipper alternatives.

  • Around.co shrinks your chat video to a small circle, so your team can focus on shared documents or whatever else you’re working on. Your background isn’t as visible as it is on Zoom, so you won’t have to worry about how you fare on Room Rater.
  • Screen.so is a new screen sharing tool that lets you work with colleagues on each other’s screens, basically putting Google Docs-like collaboration into any app.
  • Pragli pushes past the Zoom paradigm more dramatically. It’s an avatar-based virtual office service that enables audio chatting. People’s avatars help you see who is in their office, so you can drop in to ask a quick question or chat. “What Slack did for email, we want to do for video conferencing,“ a Pragli co-founder told TechCrunch’s Josh Constine.
  • Speaking of avatars, I tried Loomai this week to replace myself with an avatar for part of one of my Zoom meetings. I got some odd looks, but I can see how the service might be useful for people who would prefer not to be on camera, but who still want to show their presence.

If you want a quick way to add interactivity to your meetings, just type poll.new in Chrome. That launches a quick poll for remote meetings. It’s a brand new service from Slido.com. For a meeting break, try the addictive, free, browser-based Pictionary-style Skribbl. Or Ziago for group games you can play with newsroom colleagues over Zoom.

For a momentary pause from newsroom rigors, take a peek at This Word Does Not Exist. Each time you hit refresh, it shows you a genuine-sounding made-up word. If you’re staring at your screen all day, try the free Time Out app, which provides periodic reminders to give your eyes a rest.

Those who spend a lot of time with dense number-filled spreadsheets can take a peek at Polymer Search Beta, which uses artificial intelligence to pull insights and patterns out of sheets. Or explore Vizydrop, which lets you create cool charts and visuals from data. The visuals are designed to be dropped into a Medium post or a Notion page, or any other kind of site. Another new data service, Causal, focuses on modeling. The service takes data and turns it into a model for you, yielding an interactive dashboard so you can show readers scenarios for how things could develop.

For journalism educators, the New School’s Journalism and Design program has some great free resources, including a brand new digital edition of their creativity card deck that anyone can use to plan creative remote journalism sessions or conference workshops. Alexandra Blair also made new digital editions of two storytelling exercises: Capture, Cluster, Connect and Fairy Tale Ledes.

The brilliant Roy Peter Clark has a great take on how explanatory journalism is entering a golden age in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

To see how that golden age is working out for investigative news orgs, register for INN At Home, a free conference supporting the growth of nonprofit news on June 16-17. The Institute for Nonprofit News posted the impressive schedule as a PDF.

For a look back at a revolution that wasn’t, read “How Civil Didn’t Save Journalism,” by Allegra Hobbs for Study Hall, a media newsletter & online support network for media workers. (Editor’s note: Poynter’s Rick Edmonds also took a look at Civil’s failure to launch.) Another interesting niche media newsletter, A Media Operator, posted a similarly critical analysis titled Quartz Is Trying to Be Everything for Everyone and Struggling.

A recent issue of the journal Digital Journalism included a report titled “Still Unwilling to Pay.” Authors Hsiang Iris Chyi and Yee Man Margaret Ng found — in an analysis of 50 U.S. newspapers — that despite fanfare about growing subscriptions at the most famous publications, digital subscribership overall remained small, contributing only 3% of total reader revenue.

Another interesting recent academic paper analyzed 15 German news outlets and looked at why some flopped. “Why Do Digital Native News Media Fail? An Investigation of Failure in the Early Start-Up Phase,” by Christoper Buschow, is in the open-access journal Media and Communication.

To address the challenges early-stage tiny journalism ventures face, the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism is launching in January a new online-only, 100-day program to support founders of micro ventures. I wrote a Medium post about how we’re aiming to plant seeds for a new era in entrepreneurial journalism by helping those building newsletters, podcasts, niche sites become sustainable “armies of one.”

If you don’t already use Crowdtangle to spot up-and-coming stories, check out its free Chrome plug-in that lets you see how any story is doing on social. Or use Crowdtangle.com’s new meme search or country-specific filters to identify trending content on newsworthy topics. Give it a try at apps.crowdtangle.com/search. If you don’t already have Crowdtangle access, email crowdtangle@support.com.

Finally, if you want to see what the cool kids are using, take a look at Discord, an increasingly-popular messaging service that’s become a trendy alternative to Slack for hip online communities.

For more useful tools and resources for journalists, and an inside look at what I find most useful, sign up for my free Wonder Tools newsletter.

Subscribe this week and you’ll get a list I just updated of 30 useful free tools for working at home, plus an upcoming post about Roam, a soon-to-be-public new note-taking tool that I’ve switched to from Evernote.

Thanks for reading! Wishing the best for you and your loved ones.

Jeremy Caplan

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