January 22, 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.

There’s true crime, of course. Comedy was an early pioneer. But there’s also one from men who are obsessed with “Gilmore Girls,” a nearly minute-by-minute recap of the first World War and an examination of the Harry Potter novels as though they were sacred texts.

You name a topic and there’s a podcast about it. The big problem is finding what you’re looking for or, maybe moreso, finding what you don’t know you want to hear.

A tool called Headliner is solving the discoverability issue in podcasting in a couple different ways, for both consumers and creators.

On the creation side, Headliner allows podcasters to upload snippets of their podcasts, which Headliner transforms into videos, complete with automatic captions and spiffy images or clips of your choice. The resulting files, called audiograms, can be uploaded to the social media site of your choice (unlike audio files, which no major social network allows to be uploaded). It’s a promotion machine.

But the tools don’t stop there. Headliner can turn full podcast episodes into video clips that can be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo, where people are consuming podcasts more frequently. It can be set up to automatically create and export videos of new podcast episodes. It can automatically caption pre-existing videos. And that’s just on the creator side.

As a proof of concept, Headliner built a site called HeadlinerFlix. The site mashes together podcasts with video previews and a riff on the Netflix interface to create an experience that beckons a question: Why didn’t this exist already? It’s like a well-curated bookstore shelf for podcasts. Even as an experiment, it blows away every other podcast browsing tool.

“Our bet is fast forward a year or two and all podcasting consumption will move toward a model like this,” Neil Mody, cofounder and CEO of Headliner, told me.

Headliner has big ambitions for future updates: preview videos for entire podcasts, leaps in automatic video creation and more discoverable audio.

“Our dream is that you’ll be surfing on the internet and when someone mentions a podcast you’ll be able to listen to it right then and there,” Mody said.

I’ve been a fan of Headliner for years because of its audiogram feature. With its generous pricing structure (a liberal free plan and affordable pro plans), expansive toolset and vision for the future, it’s one of only a handful of tools that I recommend without hesitation. If you’re a podcaster, or even a podcasting fan, you owe it to yourself to keep an eye on Headliner.


Google offers a lot of tools you might not know about. Search for words or phrases in over five million books from the past 500 years. Quickly set a timer with a simple search. Make a timelapse of satellite images. There are plenty of other relatively unknown Google tools to put in your digital toolbox here. (h/t Burkhard Luber, a lecturer in international politics and international crisis areas based in Germany and friend of the newsletter.)

The debate about print products in a digital world rages on. Two weeks ago, I poked fun at the idea of plain PDFs being a viable way to consume content on the internet. Last week, we took a look at a newspaper in Arkansas that is giving its audience iPads to consume a print-replica edition of its daily product, which might not be a bad idea. The latest take comes from Damon Kiesow, who argues that the goal isn’t to replicate print in a digital world, but to learn from the parts of print that work well and translate them to the web. Kiesow is working on a related research project and promises more later in the year, but one early idea stands out: Print products are bound by the physical world and satisfy an audience desire for completion, while the internet is infinite and unbound and often overwhelming. There have to be ways to capitalize on that online.

There’s a criminally underused feature on your iPhone and iPad. It’s called a long press or press-and-hold. The name explains how it works. Here are a few uses in Safari (but note that most apps support the feature). Open your Safari tabs page and long press “Done” to close all tabs (I just shut down 512). Long press on a hyperlink to preview the linked page. Long press a link to a file to download that file to your phone. Try it anywhere and everywhere.

Filing a public records request can be complicated. Here’s a cheat sheet. Sarah Ryley from the Trace, an independent nonprofit news outlet that covers gun violence news, requested crime data from more than 50 police and sheriff departments for a story about unsolved shootings in America. Afterward, she pulled together a guide for others, including specific language to include, how to preempt common objections and how writing can make or break a request. It doesn’t get much more shoeleather than this.

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An update to Instagram’s plan to add direct messaging to the web version: You can already do it! Just use your browser’s developer tools to switch your browser to a phone version (instructions here) and the little paper airplane message button appears. (h/t to Greg Friese for pointing this out).

Facial recognition is inherently creepy. I have Global Entry, so when I returned to the U.S. after a trip this weekend I walked to a kiosk instead of standing in a customs line. The kiosk took a picture of my face and then printed out a receipt with all of my personal information to give to a customs officer. It pulled all of that information with no other input but the photo of my face. At least I opted in to that. A deeply unsettling report from The New York Times documents Clearview, a facial recognition startup that “might end privacy as we know it.”

In the age of “fake news,” The Atlantic announced it will start publishing short fiction again. And I’m here for it. Fiction is a way for us to understand each other and the world in a way detached enough from reality to not feel threatening, and a great escape from a world that feels so heavy. That’s a little woo woo, I know, but The Atlantic has published the likes of Virginia Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut and a ton of other revered writers. How can you not be excited?

Ren LaForme is Poynter’s digital tools reporter. He can be reached at ren@poynter.org or on Twitter at @itsren.

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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