Rob Tornoe | for Editor & Publisher
One great thing about covering the media for a living is getting to nerd out with fellow journalists about interesting tools they use in their reporting. In a way, it’s similar to my other life as a cartoonist, where ink slingers get together and talk about their favorite India ink or the pen nib that delivers the best line (though even those conversations are now digital, leaning on Procreate brushes and filters).
Unfortunately, the pandemic has robbed us of the casual gatherings with our colleagues or the random meet-ups at local bars where we would have traded tips about the coolest new gadget or must-try app. So, I thought now was as good a time as any to share some cool tools I’ve been using to tell better stories.
Here are a handful of apps and gadgets (along with one hack and a fun game) I hope can make some part of your job a tad bit easier.
Every year, I include Otter on my list of the most useful tools, and with good reason; it’s simply the best transcription app out there for journalists.
Otter’s genius is in handling audio recording and transcription simultaneously, giving reporters a rough but real-time rundown of whatever conversation they are recording. One helpful hack is that you can record with the Otter app on your phone while writing off the live transcription in a web browser on your computer when covering live events. It’s especially useful when covering city press conferences or post-game comments.
The app’s free version will only transcribe up to 30 minutes a sitting, but it’s easy enough to stop and start during an interview to reset the clock. But for $100 a year ($8.33 a month), Otter will transcribe up to four hours at once for a total of 6,000 minutes a month, as well as allow you to import an unlimited number of audio or video files for transcription.
In my day job as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, this handy little Chrome plugin has been a lifesaver.
Hunter lets you search for email addresses and contacts from just about any company with a website (basically, all of them). Once you download it, it’s very simple to use. Go to a website, open Hunter, type in the person you’re looking for, and Hunter will either drop their email address or show you its likely structure. You can also use Hunter to verify the validity of an email address.
The free version allows 25 searches per month, which is all I have ever needed. To bump that up to 500 searches per month, it’ll set you back $49.
Along the same lines as Hunter, Lusha is another Chrome plugin that allows you to search for email addresses using LinkedIn profiles.
It’s pretty straightforward to use. First, create a profile, and install the plugin in your toolbar; then open it up when you’ve navigated to the LinkedIn profile you’re looking to reach via email. The app uses a credit system to perform functions and gives you five free credits a month (though you can earn free credits by recommending the app to others and by joining their community).
For more searches per month and to unlock other beefy features, Lusha doesn’t come cheap. The most inexpensive plan is $74 a month.
Tools from the Knight Lab
The kind folks over at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab have developed six free, open-source tools that are especially helpful for smaller newsrooms that lack the producing manpower of larger organizations.
One I’ve used is Juxtapose, which allows you to 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. Likewise, ESPN deployed it for a game inviting readers to guess the nickname of NBA players.
Another fantastic tool is Soundcite, which allows you to integrate audio into a story the way you would add a hyperlink. The best part is that Soundcite doesn’t open a pop-up window or send users to a separate website. Instead, it adds a play button next to the text you’ve selected and seamlessly plays the audio. The New York Times used this to great effect to highlight songs in a story about a rare recording of early-20th-century singers Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley.
Other tools that the Knight Lab offers include SceneVR (which tells stores with panoramic photos), Storyline (an annotated line chart tool) and TimelineJR (an easy way to create interactive timelines).
Twitter search hacks
Most of us use Twitter in our reporting, but here are a couple of simple search commands you can use in the platform’s search field to make your life easier.
The first is to find tweets by location. For example, I work in Philadelphia, so if I want to broadly search for Tweets about the pandemic, I will enter this into the search field: “Covid” near:Philadelphia.
I can drill down even more and make the radius smaller or larger by typing: “Covid” near:Philadelphia within:5mi. You can use an area, city, state, country, postal code or geocode for the location.
One command I lean on the most is “filter,” which you can use to display only results from verified accounts (filter:verified), show only tweets with third party links (filter:links), and feature tweets only coming from news organizations (filter:news).
This one isn’t useful for journalism, per se, but all reporters need mental breaks.
Wordle is a free, online puzzle game created by software engineer Josh Wardle, which has exploded on social media. Users get six tries to guess a five-letter word, with the game letting you know which letters you guessed correctly. There is no app to download, ads to ignore or pop-ups looking for your email address. Its simplicity is its allure, and its once-a-day nature makes it a nice treat in the middle of an otherwise busy day.
One final suggestion — Sign up for the terrific “Wonder Tools” newsletter written by Jeremy Caplan, the director of teaching and learning for CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher, where he writes about trends in digital media. He is also a digital editor and writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.