Tools for Reporting Across Platforms

Category: Web Tools

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.

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.

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.

Cultural Etiquette for Overseas Assignments…

Another valuable resource for travelers on assignment overseas is eDiplomat.

The site includes information on cultural etiquette in more than 40 countries. Entries cover everything from greetings to offensive gestures to corporate culture to dress.

Just for fun, check out the advice on the United States. Here’s a sample bullet point:

  • Some Americans are known as “back slappers” — they give others a light slap on the back to show friendship.

Lonely Planet is another helpful resource for traveling. It includes advice on topics from hotels to weather trends for visitors to a variety of countries.

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

Twitalyzer: Where My “Tweeps” At?

Facebook fans and Twitter followers are of rising importance to news organizations and other outlets seeking to build a connection with their audiences.

That’s why knowing who your Twitter peeps, a.k.a “Tweeps,” are and how well your messages are reaching them can be so valuable.

Twitalyzer is a free analytics application for Twitter that can help you do that.

In addition to traditional tracking measures like number of followers and retweets (re-posting of your messages by other users), Twitalyzer provides a system for measuring an organization’s success in social media.

One of the measurements Twitalyer looks at is “impact.” Twitalyzer says it determines “impact” through a combination of measurements: followers, references to the user in Twitter, frequency of retweets both of and by the user and frequency of the user’s updates.

Twitalyzer says “impact” is a function of the number of people paying attention to a user combined with their own participation.

Twitalyzer’s other core measures of success are:

  • Engagement: ratio between people referenced by the user and the number of people referencing them
  • Generosity: percentage of updates in which a user is retweeting other people
  • Velocity: relative frequency at which a user publishes updates
  • Clout: based on the number of times the user’s name appears immediately preceded by the @ symbol when searched for in Twitter

Twitalyzer also allows you to track and set goals for your scores. And if you’d like to Twitalyze other organizations’ or individuals’ accounts, you can do that, too.

Twitalyzer’s handbook is an extremely useful tool that will help you get started. See it here.

Editing Photos When You Don’t Have Photoshop

If you don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop and aren’t crazy about your computer’s default photo editor, there’s another program you can use: FotoFlexer.

FotoFlexer is a FREE online tool for editing images. You can crop and retouch any photos you upload to the site, and even add shapes, text and effects.

Digital journalist Mark S. Luckie of the 10,000 Words blog recommended FotoFlexer as an alternative to Photoshop during a session on backpack journalism at the NAHJ convention.

TIP: When you first open FotoFlexer, instead of uploading your photo under “Upload Photo” on the homepage, click “Login” on the right-hand corner, but don’t actually register. Just upload your photo there and start working!

Here’s the before and after of a picture I took on President Obama’s Inauguration Day last year. In addition to cropping, color enhancing and sharpening the photo, I was also able to add a caption and border.



And for that more historic look, the classic black and white:

TIP: The one quirk I ran into with FotoFlexer was saving my edited photos. After clicking the “Save” button on the top toolbar of the edit screen, I couldn’t get the save to My Computer or save to Facebook functions to work.  The My Computer save stalled every time I tried it and the Facebook never linked right, but I was finally able to save the photos using the URL/Link option under “Share Photo.”

Once the URL shows up, you can paste the link into your browser to open the photo in a webpage, and then right click, and select “save image as” to save it to your computer.

Enhancing Web Content with “Link Journalism”

Publish2 is a free service that enables news organizations to round up links to content from across the Web and share them with their audiences.

The company refers to the practice as “link journalism.”

The idea is to create a newswire of sorts to function as an alternative to traditional newswires. This new kind of wire can link people to information on a particular topic or event from a variety of places, including the less conventional sources, like blogs.

How it works is an organization or individual journalist saves links to material relevant to a particular story or topic and then uses Publish2 to publish those links.

Publish2 also provides a way for news organizations to collaborate,  using a distribution system called News Exchange.

Through the News Exchange, newsrooms can create topic-based newswires using their own content. Other news organizations can then subscribe to the newswires or download the stories and other content included in the wire. You can open up your wire to everyone or set limits on which news organizations can have access.

Multiple news organizations can also join together to create a group newswire covering a particular topic.

The Climate Desk is an example of that. Journalists from several organizations, including Wired Magazine, Need to Know on PBS and the Center for Investigative Reporting, created the site using Publish2 to explore the impact of climate change.

Turning Your Scripts into Art

If you’re looking for a way to jazz up the online presentation of a feature story, look no further than Wordle.

Wordle is a free Internet tool that takes any text and transforms it into an artistic display.  The word clouds generated by Wordle are funky and colorful.

After inserting your text and creating a cloud, you can play around with font, colors and layout. You’re then free to add your word display to your website.

I created the word cloud on the left using a story from earlier this year on the celebration of what would have been Elvis’s 75th birthday.  This image  is what Wordle came up with after I pasted the script into the site. As you can see, certain words are featured more prominently than others. Wordle’s creators say words that show up more often in the source text will stand out more in the  cloud.

**TIP: Using the Wordle embed code on your site will give you a very small image. Wordle suggests using a screen capture program to save a larger image of your word cloud that you can then upload in a traditional format like JPG.

Social Media: Who Gives a Hoot?

Hootsuite does.

Hootsuite is a FREE management system for Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. It functions as a control panel, allowing an organization to access multiple networks from one place and oversee multiple contributors.

You can schedule updates or distribute messages to multiple accounts in just one step.

Hootsuite also tracks statistics, including visits to your website or social networking pages, and mentions of your organization name on other sites.

The White House and news organizations, including the LA Times and FOX, are already using Hootsuite.