10 digital tools journalists should learn
By Eric Newton*
In newspapers in particular, being a workplace fundamentalist worked. A notebook, a pencil, a manual typewriter. That’s all a reporter needed in 1870. That’s all we needed in 1970.
Change came in the form of electric typewriters, mainframes, dummy terminals, personal computers, smart phones. We had to learn new ways to put the story onto the news assembly line. But that was nothing. Now, important new tools are coming monthly. This has made some of the older folks a little crazy. They rail against “fads” and “gizmos.”
Most of us don’t have that luxury. So American Press Institute, Poynter Institute and Knight Foundation have launched a series of tutorial webinars to help media people learn to use new tools as fast as they’re coming out. DocumentCloud was the first: the tutorial showed how to set up an account and immediately start using the tool. Hundreds of attendees logged in. They learned how the tool tames simple documents from any journalistic beat. They learned advanced uses, like the USA Today "Ghost Factories" investigation showing toxic wastes at abandoned factories across America. The next tutorial is on the AP’s cool document mining tool, Overview.
- DocumentCloud: Six hundred newsrooms use it to manage, annotate and publish documents. It lets reporters share information across newsrooms, which, if you have thousands of Sarah Palin emails to go through, is really useful.
- Panda: An easy way to use databases that doesn’t require any special knowledge. You can use Microsoft Excel with it. It’s geared toward public information.
- Poderopedia: Allows you to analyze relationships among civic, political and business leaders in a country, or a city, or a company or any organized collection of people. Visualizes relationships within these power and influence networks.
- Timeline.js: Creates timelines about any story you can link to or embed. Great for developing graphic skills.
- Scraper Wiki: A more advanced tool. You can write computer code to get, clean and analyze data sets. Or you can request the Scraper Wiki community of data scientists to do it.
- TileMile/Map Box: This is a simple way to make your own maps, use maps for making apps.
- Frontline SMS: Used all over the world, this mobile texting tool lets you communicate with large numbers of people in an organized way.
- Zeega: A mixed media packaging tool that allows you to make interactive documentaries in new formats with sound, videos, pictures and text.
- Amara: A volunteer-driven translation system that can turn any video in any language into a captioned, understandable piece.
- Ushahidi: Perhaps the most popular of them all, Ushahidi is a powerful yet simple crowdsourcing system that allows any group of people using cell phones to “map” just about anything.
Power tools are coming faster. Younger journalists will live to see essential new tools showing up every single day. News will change constantly. So will the tools. Journalists will be as creative and enterprising about how they do the news as they can be about the news itself. It won’t drive them to be crazy.
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