Rob Tornoe | for editor and editor
One of the benefits of covering the media for a living is talking with other journalists about the cool tools they use in their reporting. In a way, it’s similar to my other life as a draftsman, where ink slingers get together and talk about their favorite India ink or which pen nib offers the best line (though even those conversations are now digital, relying on Procreate brushes and filters).
Unfortunately, the pandemic has deprived us of occasional gatherings with our colleagues or random encounters at local bars where we’d swap tips on the coolest new gadget or must-have app. So, I thought it was a great time to share some cool tools I’ve used to tell better stories.
Here are a handful of apps and gadgets (along with a fun hack and game) that I hope can make some of your work a little easier.
Every year, I include Otter in my list of the most useful tools, and for good reason; it is simply the best transcription app for journalists.
Otter’s genius is in handling audio recording and transcription simultaneously, giving reporters a rough but real-time preview of the conversation they’re recording. A useful hack is that you can record with the Otter app on your phone while writing the live transcript in a web browser on your computer when covering live events. This is especially useful for covering City press conferences or post-game commentary.
The free version of the app will only transcribe up to 30 minutes per session, but it’s easy enough to stop and start during an interview to reset the clock. But for $100 per year ($8.33 per month), Otter will transcribe up to four hours at a time for a total of 6,000 minutes per month, and let you import an unlimited number of audio or video files for the transcription.
In my daily work as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, this handy little Chrome plugin saved my life.
Hunter lets you search email addresses and contacts for almost any business with a website (basically, all of them). Once downloaded, it is very easy to use. Go to a website, open Hunter, type in the person you’re looking for, and Hunter will remove their email address or show you their likely pattern. You can also use Hunter to check the validity of an email address.
The free version allows 25 searches per month, that’s all I ever needed. To increase up to 500 searches per month, it will cost you $49.
Along the same lines as Hunter, Lusha is another Chrome plugin that lets you search for email addresses using LinkedIn profiles.
It’s quite simple to use. First, create a profile and install the plugin in your toolbar; then open it when you’ve navigated to the LinkedIn profile you want to email. The app uses a credit system to perform functions and gives you five free credits per month (although you can earn free credits by recommending the app to others and joining their community).
For more searches per month and unlocking other powerful features, Lusha doesn’t come cheap. The cheapest plan is $74 per month.
Knight Lab Tools
The nice folks at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab have developed six free, open-source tools that are especially useful for small newsrooms that lack the production manpower of larger organizations.
I used Juxtapose, which lets you embed a before and after image to illustrate how something has changed over time. For example, the Boston Globe used the tool to show the differences between a classic half dollar and an updated version produced for the coin’s 50th anniversary. Similarly, ESPN rolled it out for a game asking readers to guess NBA players’ nicknames.
Another fantastic tool is Soundcite, which lets you embed audio into a story the same way you would add a hyperlink. The best part is that Soundcite doesn’t open a popup or send users to a separate website. Instead, it adds a play button next to the text you selected and plays the audio seamlessly. The New York Times used it wisely to highlight songs in a story on a rare recording by early 20th-century singers Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley.
Other tools offered by Knight Lab include SceneVR (which shows stores with panoramic photos), Storyline (an annotated line chart tool), and TimelineJR (a simple way to create interactive timelines).
Twitter search hacks
Most of us use Twitter in our reporting, but here are some simple search commands you can use in the platform’s search box to make your life easier.
The first is to find tweets by location. For example, I work in Philadelphia, so if I want to search broadly for Tweets about the pandemic, I would type it into the search field: “Covid” near: Philadelphia.
I can dig even deeper and shrink or expand the radius by typing: “Covid” near: Philadelphia within: 5 mi. You can use an area, city, state, country, zip code, or geocode for the location.
One command I rely on the most is the “filter”, which you can use to only show results from verified accounts (filter: verified), only show tweets with third-party links (filter: links), and only feature than tweets from news organizations. (filter: news).
This one isn’t useful for journalism per se, but all journalists need mental breaks.
Wordle is a free online puzzle game created by software engineer Josh Wardle that has exploded onto social media. Users get six tries to guess a five-letter word, with the game letting you know which letters you guessed correctly. There are no apps to download, ads to ignore, or pop-ups looking for your email address. Its simplicity is its appeal, and its once-a-day nature makes it a treat in the middle of an otherwise busy day.
One final suggestion – Sign up for the awesome “Wonder Tools” newsletter written by Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and publisher, where he writes about digital media trends. He is also a digital editor and writer for The Inquirer of Philadelphia. Contact him at [email protected]