Technology has done a lot to harm newspapers in recent years, but in its wake of disruption it has left behind a host of powerful tools that journalists 15 years ago couldn’t even have imagined using.
The sheer amount of tech-sounding names and promising new ventures can easily make it overwhelming for the average newsroom employee to dive in, especially considering the high rate of failure when it comes to digital news innovation. I mean, do your bosses even care about Tumblr anymore?
Among the most popular columns I’ve written for Editor & Publisher was a simple overview of five digital tools that I use often that aren’t called Facebook or Tweetdeck. I’m constantly getting notes from reporters and producers at organizations across the country tipping me off to cool apps and interesting tools that I never would have come across otherwise.
So, think of this month’s column as my attempt to “pay it forward.” In fact, I still use two tools I gave a spotlight to in my previous column on nearly a daily basis, and they are worth touting again.
The first is Call Recorder, a simple paid app for the Mac (sorry PC users) that allows incoming calls via Skype to be recorded with a click of the button. It also allows you to easily convert the audio of the calls to MP3 and convert them to internet-ready movies, allowing reporters to include an engaging bit of multimedia in their stories very easily.
The second is oTranscribe. So far, I’ve been unwilling to spring for a paid program that transcribes audio for me, but oTranscribe is the next best thing. Basically it’s a free website where you upload your sound file and can use easy shortcut keys to pause, rewind or slow down the audio while you transcribe on a single web tab.
Here are four other tools (well, three tools and a hack) that have been recommended to me by journalists over the past year that I now use regularly when reporting. I hope they make your job a tad bit easier.
Tools like Parse.ly and Chartbeat are great, but at the moment, I am completely addicted to CrowdTangle. It’s an analytics platform that tracks the performance of articles in your market across the most popular social media websites, including often-overlooked venues like LinkedIn and Pinterest. Not only can you see how your stories are performing in real time, CrowdTangle also allows you to see what content is trending in your market that was created by someone else, including your competitors.
Told you it was cool.
To get CrowdTangle’s beefier newsroom analytics, you have to sign up through your newsroom (don’t worry—it’s free, thanks to Facebook’s purchase last November). But their Link Checker is available to anyone and remarkably easy to use, provided you use Chrome. Basically you just download and install the Chrome plugin, and it will show up as an icon in the top right of your browser until you’re ready to use it.
Once you open your story, click on the plugin’s icon and an overlay will appear that shows how many social interactions, referrals and sources shared your story. It even displays how many Facebook timelines the story ended up in. I’ve even found a source or two for my own reporting by being able to see when an influencer shared one of my stories (or if I’m being completely honest, a competitor’s story on my beat).
This is another free Chrome plugin (sorry, Firefox users) that I’ve become addicted to over the past six months. Screencastify is a simple, lightweight tool that allows you to record anything that’s happening on your desktop, whether it’s a live feed from a local sports game, a webcam interview or footage from last night’s local news cast.
You can pay a premium to unlock more features, but ScreenCastify does offer a powerful array of tools for free. You can adjust the size, crop and clip the duration and export it to just about any file format you need. You can toggle between audio that’s coming from the tab or being capture by a microphone (helpful if you’re attempting to film a demonstration of something you’re doing). Once you’re ready to export, you can save it just about everywhere in various formats, including a direct upload to YouTube.
Twitter Search Hack
Every journalist uses Twitter, and if you’re not, I’m not sure what I can tell you at this point to convince you to sign up. For the rest of us, there’s a way to quickly get a lot more out of Twitter by using simple but often-overlooked commands when using the search field to find content.
These commands are entered as modifiers following whatever it is you’re searching for. For instance, I work in Philadelphia, so if I want to broadly search for Tweets about President Trump in and around town, I would enter this into the search field: “Trump” near:Philadelphia. I can even drill down even more and make the radius smaller or larger by typing : “Trump” near:Philadelphia within:5mi.
If you want to search for tweets by date, you can use date operators like “since” or “until,” which would look like: “Trump” since:2017-01-20 or “Trump” until:2017-01-20.
One of the commands I often find myself using is “filter,” which you can use to display only results from verified accounts (filter:verified), show only tweets with third party links (filter:links), and feature tweets only coming from news organizations (filter:news).
This is another Chrome plugin suggested to me that I think I wouldn’t be able to survive without. Finally some good news for all you non-Chrome users—Grammarly also has a desktop application you can download and use, though I haven’t had the need to test it out.
Grammarly’s plugin runs in the background and lets you know when your spelling and grammar has run afoul of the rules no matter where you’re typing (except Google Docs, where it’s oddly restricted), including Facebook posts, tweets and most importantly, emails. When you’ve made a mistake, it simply throws the same red line you might see in Word underneath the text in question, but in my limited experience playing around with the app, it appears a lot more accurate than most native spelling and grammar programs.
Just like Word, it has a library where you can teach it new words and certain grammar ticks you don’t want to keep being reminded about in your work. It also saved me several times from making simple but embarrassing mistakes (it’s pique, not peak). But the coolest function of all is Grammarly sends you a weekly report giving you a score, warning you of potential plagiarism and offering details on some of the mistakes you make over and over again.