Tools for Reporting Across Platforms

Category: Production

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.

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.

A Backpack Journalist’s Dream Come True? A Look at The JVC GY-HM100U

The days of tape-based video cameras and real-time digitizing are numbered. Now, it’s all about the memory card.

The JVC GY-HM100U is a nice little camera that records directly to SDHC cards (it has slots for 2).

Despite its small size (weighing in at just over 3 lbs), this camera packs a professional punch. It shoots in HD up to 1080P and comes complete with XLR mic inputs for professional level sound.

If you’re a Final Cut user, imagine adding to that the ability to record directly to QuickTime movie format. Picture an editing workflow of drag and drop replacing the headache of log and capture. Would that sweeten the deal? Well the JVC does just that.

The camera also stores files in MP4 format for use with other non-linear editing systems.

Here’s a helpful review of the camera, complete with test footage, from London-based director and filmmaker Philip Bloom.

Video journalist Glen Canning’s review is also worth checking out.

After extensive research, I finally got mine and am excited to put it to use.  At nearly $2,800, it’s a bit of an investment (both for newsrooms and individuals), but the ease of post-production should help make it worth it.

Check back soon for the results of my test runs…

To Use or Not to Use? The DSLR and Video Journalism

The emergence of digital SLR cameras capable of shooting HD video has prompted an informal debate about whether the cameras are suitable for video journalism.

Naysayers like Cliff Etzel of say the shallow depth of field and cinema look produced by DSLRs distract from the story.  Etzel says the need for additional equipment to improve a DSLR’s functionality as a video camera is another major drawback.

But take a look at a news piece shot with a DSLR, and you’ll see that when done right, you really can get a superb product.

Here’s an example shot by photo and video journalist Dan Chung in China for British newspaper the Guardian. (It takes a little time to load, but it’s well worth your patience!)

Chung’s website, DSLR News Shooter, is a great resource if you’re interested in seeing more.

For the video above, Chung used the Canon EOS 550D, a.k.a. the Rebel T2i, which is miraculously, not extremely expensive. I recently purchased my own and have been very happy with its performance so far.  The camera comes complete with an external mic jack, so you can get higher quality sound. The kit I bought rounded out to about $1100 and included an extra lens. Check B&H for deals.

FRIDAY the 13th Tribute: Scary Shifts in Journalism

Cue horror movie theme music. In honor of Friday the 13th, I’m highlighting a few of the scary (or could they be genius?) shifts the journalism industry is undergoing as a result of the focus on new media.

1. The Headless Newscast

 Well, not exactly headless, but anchorless… KIAH, The Tribune Company’s TV station in Houston,  is preparing to redesign its nightly newscast in this unfamiliar format. Reports indicate the goal is to create a similar experience to surfing the Internet for news.

A few days ago Shoptalk by TV Spy (which I recommend subscribing to if you’re interested in keeping up with industry changes) featured this article by Poynter about the venture.

2. Reporters “Shape-Shifting” into Commentators and YouTube Parodists

The rise and allure of the Internet has begun to blur the lines more and more between journalism and entertainment.  And the “infotainment”  trend gets even uglier when journalists start blurring their own lines.

Recently, a group of reporters and photographers for a local TV station in Arkansas created two parody videos of the TV newsroom working experience. In addition to being profanity-laced and vulgar, the videos were made using station equipment and even used the station newsroom as a set. I hesitate to post the videos here (yes, they’re THAT graphic), but if you’re curious, here’s a link to the Arkansas Business article about them.

And if you’re wondering about the fate of these journalists-turned-comedians, they were promptly fired. Yikes!

3. The Attack of the Unvetted Information Monster ( or The Axing of Shirley Sherrod and the Ghost of Steve Jobs)

With a new focus on citizen journalism, blogging and social media, people are now getting their information from all kinds of untraditional sources. The danger emerges when news organizations also look to these sources for information, without properly vetting what they learn.

A prime example is the case of Shirely Sherrod. An official with the U.S. Agriculture Department, Sherrod was fired from her position after it was reported that she made racist comments during a speech to a chapter of the NAACP. The problem was her quotes were presented only in part and without the context of her full speech. A conservative blogger had posted a heavily-edited video of the address on the Web, and media outlets and the Obama administration had acted initially based on that, without exploring the comments in their entirety. (President Obama has since apologized to Sherrod and expressed regret over the administration’s handling of the situation. Sherrod says she will sue the blogger responsible. For more on this story, see here.)

Also, anybody remember the time Apple CEO Steve Jobs died, and then miraculously came back to life? In October 2008, someone on CNN’s iReport citizen journalism website published a false story claiming Jobs had died of a heart attack. Apple stock fell more than 5% following the post.

In CNN’s defense, the site did note the material was unedited and unfiltered, but obviously, that didn’t stop some people from taking what they saw as fact.

Learn A Language Fast and for Free…

If you’re preparing for an assignment in another country and are unable (or unwilling) to shell out hundreds of dollars for Rosetta Stone, there are other much less expensive (a.k.a. FREE) ways to learn the basics of another language. Even with the benefit of an interpreter, it helps to know at least some of the language yourself.

Language courses from the U.S. Foreign Service Institute are posted online for anyone to access. (See FSI language site here.)

Example from FSI Russian FAST Course

The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute is the government’s primary training institution for diplomats and other foreign affairs workers. The FSI lessons on the Web cover more than 40 different languages. Courses include both text and audio.

For some of the languages, the FAST (Familiarization and Short-Term Training) series appears to be the most useful. Because the lessons are designed for travelers preparing to live and work in a foreign country, the topics covered may be more relevant than those offered by other language-learning courses.

Another good resource is Mango Languages. Courses on the Mango Languages site are designed to provide learners with conversation skills for real-life situations.

 If you establish a personal account with Mango, you’ll end up paying more than $150 for a three-month course. But many local libraries have subscriptions with Mango to provide the service free for their cardholders. And you don’t have to be in the library to benefit.

The library in my area allows access to Mango Languages lessons directly through the library’s website, so you can learn at home. When you visit Mango’s site, it has a search function for your zip code to determine whether your library has a subscription.

If you’d like to explore more resources for learning a new language the frugal way, check out the site Free Language.

Sample from Mango Languages German Lesson 1