Digital Publishing: Five Tools that will Make Every Reporter’s Job Easier

By: Rob Tornoe

Whenever we hear the words technology and journalism mentioned in the same sentence, it’s almost always a doom-and-gloom statement about how modern conveniences like the Internet have destroyed our business model.

Journalists as a whole often cling to an old-school approach to reporting, clutching their notepad while fondly recalling the lost smell of typewriter ribbon. So as a group, we’re often late adopters to the conveniences modern technology can bring to our reporting.

With that thought, here are recommended to me by various journalists that I think have the potential of making every reporter’s life a little easier.

Ground Signal

It’s become a job requirement for journalists to be able to monitor, mine and participate in social media. But as more and more people flood these platforms, it has become increasingly more difficult to find valuable information.

Ground Signal is a Web tool that can let reporters and producers find posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram within a certain location by drawing a shape on a map. The program captures and presents all geo-tagged posts with the area, and can be filters by photo, video and text.

Once you set the area you want to monitor, you can watch the results roll in live, which is a great asset for any local breaking news event. You can also set Ground Signal to send you daily or weekly updates via email, a great way for beat reporters to cover a specific location.

Ground Signal is free, but if you want to track more than three locations within a one-mile radius, you’ll have to pony up $9 for the premium version, which also allows you to engage directly with users without leaving the website.

Autodesk Pixlr

So you’ve taken photos of an event on your smartphone, but would like to edit them slightly before tweeting them out or sending them to your editors.

With Autodesk Pixlr, you can grab photos you’ve taken with your phone and edit them on the fly. The app has a user-friendly menu of options, which includes brightness, exposure, color and a bevy of other options. There is even a “brighten” option that allows you to fix parts of your image that were poorly lit.

The best part is Autodesk Pixlr doesn’t cost a penny, though some effects and features require a download to use. Just make sure you nab all the effects and features you want to use while you’re still using you’re office’s wifi, and you should be all set.

Lrn

Ever wanted to learn Web code, but thought you didn’t have the time? Lrn, an app for iPhone (and soon for Android), allows reporters to learn the basics of reading and writing coding languages through interactive mini-quizzes.

One big benefit of Lrn is once you download, you can use the app without an Internet connection, so you could teach yourself HTML, CSS, Javascript and others on your subway commute to work.

“We want to make the most immersive mobile coding experience possible,” said Nathan Bernard, Lrn’s CEO, who studied coding for a year before launching the app last year. “As I continue to learn to code, I can’t help but feel that if I can do it, anyone can.”

Lrn won’t turn you into a sophisticated programmer overnight, and it’s not a replacement for complete lessons, but it is a simple and convenient way to introduce yourself to concepts that have become increasingly important in the world of journalism.

The first set of Lrn lessons are free, and the complete course (which includes more than 600 mini-quizzes) can be unlocked for $2.99.

Call Recorder

This is a favorite of mine. I do a lot of interviews for stories through Skype, and Call Recorder is a simple app for the Mac (sorry PC users) that allows calls to be recorded with a simple click of a button.

The app, which costs $29.95 (with a seven day free trial period), shows you input and output audio levels in real-time, so you know that it’s properly recording during your conversation. It also allows you to easily convert your calls to MP3 files and Internet-ready movies, if you want to add quick multimedia elements to your story.

Call Recorder also has a multi-track feature that allows you to split tracks once the call is complete, allowing you to easily find key parts of the conversation you were looking for.

If you don’t use Skype, I’d recommend TapeACall, an app that allows you to record calls that are either already in progress or that you’re about to make. The pro version of TapeACall is $9.99, and is available on both Android and Apple phones. TapeACall works by setting up a three-way connection, so just make sure that feature is supported by your mobile provider.

oTranscribe

You’ve recorded your interview, but now comes the annoying task of transcribing portions of it for your story. As someone who uses this Web application all the time, take it from me—oTranscribe will change your life.

It couldn’t be easier to use. Basically all you do is take your sound file and upload it into oTranscribe’s Web app. As you transcribe the audio, there are shortcut keys that enable you to pause, rewind and even slow down the audio, all from the convenience of a single tab (no more time-consuming shuffling between your audio and word processing program).

Despite being a Web app, oTranscribe saves your work in your brower’s cache and has some offline functionality, so a sudden loss of Internet access won’t cost you all your hard work (just don’t click any links if your Internet does go down, or your get connectivity error issues).

oTranscribe is probably so intuitive to use because it was created by journalist Elliot Bently, a graphics editor at the Wall Street Journal who learned how to code on his own. Bently also gave it an appealing price for fellow journalists—free. And who doesn’t like that?

 

Rob Tornoe

 

Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher, where he writes about trends in digital media. He is also a digital editor for Philly.com. Reach him at robtornoe@gmail.com.

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Published: May 19, 2016

3 thoughts on “Digital Publishing: Five Tools that will Make Every Reporter’s Job Easier

  • May 19, 2016 at 6:05 am
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    Love these tools, Rob. I will be sharing them within the week in my free email newsletter on how to get free publicity. My readers include journalists, freelancers and bloggers.

    Here’s another: SuperTinTin, an easy-to-use software program for recording Skype video interviews. It’s $29.95. I use it to get video testimonials. Reporters could use it for video interviews.

    Reply
  • May 19, 2016 at 8:48 am
    Permalink

    Will should retire from the cast of news headlines. Writers do not have tools to forecast the future outside the predictable behavior of natural forces.

    Neither are totalistic, all-encompassing claims appropriate for news content. These five apps might make some reporters jobs easier. There is no basis for a claim they will make every reporter’s job easier.

    One thing that could help reporters would be if news industry trade publications would not use inappropriate, marketing-style, link-bait headlines. Reliance on such low-brow language can create an impression that such deceitful techniques are the industry norm.

    Reply

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