Tools for Reporting Across Platforms

Create a Web Page Library with Instapaper

It’s the plight of many journalists and other news junkies. You’re constantly scouring the Web for information, but you don’t always have time to read through every article. Enter Instapaper.

Instapaper is a tool that allows you to save web pages to read them later. The great part is you don’t have to use a computer to access the service. You can also get it on your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad or e-book reader.

And once an article is downloaded, you don’t even have to be online to see it. That means you can read it anytime, anywhere, even on the subway or a plane (without paying for Wi-Fi).

The Instapaper iPhone app saves a text-only version of most pages, which the developer says is optimized for readability on the iPhone and iPad screens.

Using Instapaper’s “Read Later” bookmark option for your browser, you can quickly and easily save any page you find. You can also forward emails to your Instapaper account.

The developer says there’s no limit to how many web pages you can store and your archive is kept indefinitely. The free Instapaper iPhone app, however, is restricted to holding just 10 articles at a time. If you splurge for the pro version (just $4.99), you get more storage space and adjustable reading features, including changeable text size and font, and an optional night reading mode.

TIP: When using Instapaper on your computer, it may help to select the “printable view” of a web page before saving. I learned the hard way when I saved an article and only the comments showed up in Instapaper’s text only view.

Evernote: Keeping Your Notes in One Place

Throw away your old Post-it pads and ratty notebooks. Forget about Gmail-ing yourself scattered links and creating random desktop folders. Evernote is a free Web portal that can help you consolidate all the things you need to refer back to and remember in one handy, easily-accessible place.

Just download Evernote and register a username, and you’ll soon be able to access your account anywhere, even on your phone or on another computer through the Web.

You can create notes and to-do lists, store web pages, PDFs and other files, and use Evernote on your phone to take text or audio notes, or snap and save photos. You can also store tweets by connecting your Evernote and Twitter accounts, or install the Evernote Web Clipper for your browser, making it easy to save content using the Evernote icon on the toolbar.

And any content you add to Evernote is easily searchable. Evernote even recognizes words that appear in your images!

If you’re working on a story or project that requires extensive research, Evernote could prove an ideal assistant. Some authors have even used Evernote to write their books.

Evernote also offers a premium version. For just $5 a month (or $45 if you buy for the year), Evernote Premium supports more file types (including Microsoft Office documents and video), expands your upload capacity and provides enhanced security. The company says you also get PDF searching, faster image recognition and no ads. And Evernote Premium opens the possibility for collaboration by enabling users to allow others to edit their notes.

Check out the Evernote blog for more ways to use Evernote.

Data Visualization with amMap and amCharts…

There are many different web tools for making free interactive maps, but of the ones I’ve explored, amMap provides the most visually appealing templates.

AmMap is a package of Flash maps that you can easily customize. Change colors, add text or photos, adjust zoom — the options are endless. I’ll warn you though, you need to be familiar with or at least willing to get familiar with some HTML coding to use amMaps properly. (Or at least find someone in your company or organization who is.)

The tool gives you a range of different maps to work with, including individual country maps and comprehensive world maps depicting either countries or continents.

With little HTML experience of my own (and a whole lot of Google searches), I was able to put together this map using data from the Institute of International Education. The map shows the top 10 countries of origin for international students studying in the U.S. during the 2008-2009 school year.

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

This is an extremely helpful tutorial that can get you started. If you’re interested in seeing another example, here’s one from USA Today on swine flu cases.

You can download amMap for free from the website. Once downloaded, extract the ZIP files to a new folder and get to work!

AmMap is a product of amCharts, a company based in Lithuania. You can also use amCharts to create clean, well-put together graphs and data charts, including pie charts, bar graphs and scatter plots. Click here for details.

ExpertTweet and HARO: Tools for Tracking Down Sources

Need an expert for a story you’re researching? There are web tools that can help.

One is ExpertTweet. The free service, created by marketing platform Journalistics, is designed to help you use Twitter to find sources.

Just head to the ExpertTweet website, sign in using your Twitter account info and tweet your expert request. Journalistics says Twitter users following ExpertTweet actively scan the requests, making it likely they’ll see your need and respond with a suggestion.

ExpertTweet currently has less than 3,000 followers, so it may not give you what you’re looking for just yet, but as more people sign on and the service grows, your chances for a successful search will improve.

A more established website that can help you find sources is HARO — Help a Reporter Out. A number of news agencies already use HARO.

To submit a request, click on “Submit Queries” on the Reporters side of HARO’s homepage. You’ll then have the option to fill out a request form that includes space for detailing your location and deadline. HARO says it currently has nearly 103,000 active sources. And like ExpertTweet, it is 100% FREE.

Dipity Doo Da… Easy Way to Create a Timeline

Looking for a quick and dirty way to create interactive timelines?

Dipity is a website designed exclusively for digital timeline creation, and it’s FREE.

Many news organizations are already using Dipity, including The Washington Post. Check out how used Dipity to chronicle the experiences of a family that went on a seven-year sailing trip around the world.

In addition to individual event entries, Dipity also allows you to populate your timeline with data already on other sites, including photos, videos and blog posts. The services linked for importing include Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Here’s a quick example I put together by incorporating the RSS feed for this blog. See it in full on the Dipity site here.


One of Dipity’s best features is the “Search” function, which allows you to enter a particular keyword or term and collect and insert related data from Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or Google News. Dipity will automatically update the timeline as more info pops up that includes your search term.

Searching your own name or organization, for example, could be a great way to track what Dipity refers to as  your “digital footprint” over time.

Once you join, you can create timelines on Dipity for FREE, but even embedded, they come with a Dipity stamp in the corner.

If you want to get rid of the Dipity branding altogether, you’ll have to buy Dipity Premium. Plans start at $5 a month and go up to about $100 a month for the Pro version.

Pelosi in Your Pocket…

As any journalist covering Congress can tell you, it’s not always easy to keep up with every official on the Hill. That’s where Congress in Your Pocket comes in.

The service by Cohen Research Group is a congressional directory for your iPhone, iPod touch or BlackBerry.

One of my colleagues informed me about it recently, and it is a HUGE help.

For the iPhone and iPod touch, the Basic version costs just $0.99 and includes info on each member of Congress, including party affiliation and biographical details. It also includes the official’s office address, office telephone number and a link to his or her website.

The Basic version also comes complete with campaign info, including the person’s campaign website,  name of his or her top opponent and donor info. (Buy it from Apple’s App Store here.)

The Congress+ and CongressPro versions are more expensive ($4.99 and $29.99 respectively) but offer even more info about each congressman, including staff contact info, committee assignments and sponsored legislation. (See differences between all three versions here.)

The benefit to the Pro version is that its info is updated all year, which means you’ll always be up-to-date.

A yearly subscription on the BlackBerry will cost you $99, substantially more than the iPhone app, but for government workers or those buying in a group, the Congress in Your Pocket website says there are discounts.

Future of Journalism at Your Fingertips…

The Nieman Journalism Lab has released an iPhone app!

The lab is a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.  The lab’s stated focus is to help journalism figure out its future in the age of the Internet.

If you’re a news junkie looking to keep up with industry changes, the Nieman Journalism Lab is a great resource. And its app, now available in Apple’s App Store at ZERO COST, makes the info even easier to access.

The lab says the app features all its stories and tweets, as well as the most buzzed-about links overall from Twitter and recent reports from other sources of journalism news.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you can still keep up with the Nieman Journalism Lab on its website.

Panoramas on Your iPhone!

If you’re an iPhone user looking for a quick and easy way to create a panorama, Pano is your answer.

The app from Debacle Software allows you to create a 360 degree panoramic image using up to 16 photos. It also has a guide to help you line up your shots.

Pano is available on Apple’s App Store for just $2.99. Apple named Pano one of the best apps of last year.

The panoramas save directly to your iPhone’s camera roll. The program can also be used on the iPad and iPod touch.

Just for Fun: Bring Barbie on Your Next Shoot

Introducing Barbie Video Girl. She’s  blonde, beautiful and comes fully equipped with a built-in video camera.

The camera lens is embedded in her necklace, while an LCD viewing screen sits fashionably in her back.

One of my colleagues showed me the following video by digital media maker Brandon Bloch, comparing Barbie Video Girl to a Canon 7D SLR camera. It is HILARIOUS, and the results may surprise you. This camerawoman is not half bad! (See more of Bloch’s work on his website:

Can you imagine bringing Barbie along on your next interview? “Dr. Hansen, if you could please just look straight at Barbie, say your name and spell it for me?”

For aspiring little journalists/filmmakers on your birthday buying list, $50 gets you the doll and a USB cord. Mattel says the camera is compatible with both Mac and Windows. It requires 2 AAA batteries.

Don’t Flip Out Just Yet! An Alternative to the Flip Cam

Don’t get me wrong. Flip cameras are a great buy. But there’s another pocket camcorder on the market that takes the Flip’s features and quality to the next level: the Kodak Zi8.


The Kodak Zi8 captures video at HD 1080P, higher than the Flip’s quality of 720P. The Zi8 also has an external mic jack, while the Flip currently does not.

You can order the Zi8 right now from either B&H or Best Buy for about $130, which is equivalent to the cost of the Flip.

I’m planning to take a Zi8 out in the field for some tests in the near future.

Until then, check out this review of the camera from CNET.

If you already have a Flip and are wishing for higher quality audio, you might want to look into the Mikey for Flip recently announced by Blue Microphones. The Mikey is a small, square microphone that attaches to the bottom of your Flip and is designed to give you professional level sound.

The Mikey also has a mic jack if you want to use a different microphone.  The device is set to come out next year. There’s just one eensy little drawback: the price. The Mikey is expected to sell for $70, about half the cost of the camera itself.