January 15, 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 to the second issue of Try This! in 2020. I have oodles of tech and tools news for you today, including some to consider all year long. As always, if you have a recommendation or would like me to look into a tool, please let me know. Let’s get to it.

Bloomberg is using Telegram, a messaging app, when most of the United States is not. Why? It’s all about international audiences. The most popular messaging app in the U.S. is Facebook Messenger, but apps like WhatsApp, Line and Telegram are more popular elsewhere in the world. Bloomberg had been using WhatsApp to send breaking news messages but had to reconsider its strategy last year, when WhatsApp limited bulk messaging to hinder the spread of misinformation. It’s a good reminder that third-party platforms can carry big risks and big rewards.

How will journalism change in 2020? Will publishers lean more into reader revenue than advertising? Will newsrooms continue to spin out podcasts? Maybe news websites will further personalize their pages based on individual users’ tastes? Or perhaps we’ll all upload our consciousnesses to a matrix where we’ll live in fear of killer robots? The answer is all but the latter, according to a survey of industry executives from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (and the latter, according to me).

The web version of Instagram finally has direct messages … at least for a small subset of users. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing social network is finally testing web DMs. This is a big deal for those who run a business’ Instagram account, as they currently have to use the app (on a personal or work-supplied phone) or a third-party tool to respond to DMs from audiences.

Are you a Firefox user? Go update your browser right now. The United States Department of Homeland Security issued a rare announcement that all Firefox users should update to the latest version, which fixes a bug that allows attackers to take over your entire operating system, whether it’s a Mac or PC. Just in case you’re a total Luddite: That ain’t good (and cheers to you for subscribing to this newsletter!). Despite this flaw, Firefox remains a top-tier browser, especially if you care about privacy. And you should care about privacy.

Out of all of the social networks, LinkedIn feels the most complicated. The platform itself is easy to use but the stakes feel so high — like a networking event with the whole world. What do I wear? How do I best present myself? It can make even the easiest task, like describing your job, feel high stakes. This giant LinkedIn cheat sheet does a good job of breaking it all down. From how to dress for a profile photo to how to reach out for endorsements, it has you covered.

Is the knock brush the new soapbox? It turns out that Slack, the workplace messaging tool with that ubiquitous knock-knock-knock message sound, is the “connective tissue” in the wave of unionization efforts in newsrooms around the country (subscription required). Slack allows for quick one-to-one or one-to-many messages, making it easy for employees to have important discussions about wages and benefits outside of the earshot of their employers. And here I was just sending custom emojis of my face.

A newspaper in Arkansas is loaning iPads to its subscribers for free. Why? Because iPads are expensive but printing physical newspapers and delivering them to homes every day for a year is even more so. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has given out 27,000 iPads so far and has an overall subscriber retention rate of 78 percent. Every morning, the publication sends digital replicas of its print newspapers to those iPads. And while I knocked digital replicas of physical products in this newsletter just last week, this is a thoughtful move that deserves praise — executives realized that moving audiences from print to digital and a traditional layout to a modern online format would be too much change at once.

If you’re still chasing clicks instead of building loyal audiences, it’s time to change. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center analyzed 13 terabytes of data from three major American newspapers and found that moving a casual reader to a subscriber is important, but it’s much more important to retain that subscriber over a period of time than it is to seek out new subscribers. They call this metric “Customer Lifetime Value.” To me, it just sounds like meaningful and deliberate engagement.

Some Wi-Fi networks are really finicky and hard to join. Before you get stuck trying to make the network login page load sitting in some far-flung coffee shop, bookmark neverssl.com. Through some technical shizzle-wizzle, the site uses a (normally very bad) unencrypted page to get the login prompt to load.

Here’s a framework for thinking about ethics and engagement in journalism. It’s also just a really great audience-first take on journalism ethics (which should have really been our focus all along, yeah?).

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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  • I won’t agree with you concerning the Telegram. Just look through the latest news, it continues to steal user’s data. It had faced a lot of problems and if you need a real privacy you’d better use Utopia or something similar. Which has a better encryption. Or continue sharing your personal texts and photos with the world.

    • Can you tell a little more about Utopia? As I’m also tired of all these negative news connected to Telegram and looking for something else. Where developers care about their users.