One of the first workshops I gave as a new professor was to introduce journalists to a few tools and applications I found on the web that they could use when producing a multimedia story.
Six and a half years later, that small workshop has morphed into a side project that has a collection of more than 100 types of tech and tools to help journalists be more digital.
The collection can be overwhelming.
But, as journalists adapting and working in his quick-moving digital era, we need to add some of these seemingly countless tools to our journalism toolbox.
As we launch head first into 2016 and beyond, here are some tech, tools and apps every journalist should be aware of. This is just a small selection from the growing list of apps. Make sure you share your recommendations, too. (Ping me on Twitter: @webjournalist.)
NOTE: As we know, technology moves fast. By the time this piece gets published, there may be a new thingy that we need to add, or an old thingy that needs to be removed. The real goal here is to be aware of the diverse tools and be open to how we can each integrate many of them into our daily journalism.
Let’s start with the basic set of mobile apps all journalists should have on their smartphones. I am talking about the pillars of journalism: writing, photography, audio and video.
Price: Free to premium at $49.99 a year
I know, I know this one is a classic. But I am still surprised by how many journalists don’t use this app that is as cross platform as Netflix or Angry Birds. In this mobile world, you never know where you will be when you need to write something down, and that’s where the infamous cloud comes in.
Evernote is a mobile app, computer application and website — they are all exactly the same — that synchronizes your content. Meaning, if you add something via your phone, it’ll be there when you log on through your desktop. It will also be there when you borrow a co-worker’s laptop and log on through Evernote’s website. They even have an Apple Watch app.
It does a lot more than just text, too. Organize the digital scraps in your life into one searchable place.
Price: Free to premium at $39.99 a year
We routinely hear it’s all about the video. And it’s typically mobile. WeVideo is a mobile video editor that also ports the video from your phone to your browser to be edited, all for free (with some limitations).
Record video on your phone and do a rough edit there. You can publish if you’d like, but you can also access the project via desktop browser and refine the edit with more tools. The video interface even changes depending on your video editing level. Think iMovie to Final Cut … er, Premiere.
Embrace the live streaming mobile video app, owned by Twitter. While live streaming video from phones isn’t necessarily new (UStream, Qik, Livestream, etc.), the concept got hot again thanks to the similar Meerkat app. Perhaps it was the logo, but for some reason it became a hot new app … and Twitter essentially killed it when it backed and bought Periscope.
While both apps have useful social engagement integrated, Periscope wins because it has the Twitter advantage, most recently now streaming inline. Again, these apps do live streaming video from your phone, and it pushes notifications to your social platforms. You engage with viewers as you stream and, like Snapchat, these live videos disappear. Or, rather, “disappear” after a 24-hour replay period online. You can save them onto your phone, though.
4) PCM Recorder (aka TASCAM audio app)
Price: Free (Apple devices only)
Audio recording/editing apps have come to pose a bigger challenge. For desktop, I still recommend using the free audio application Audacity. It works on Mac, Windows and Linux, but as of yet it has no mobile versions.
For iOS, I have found a few options, and the one I’d recommend is TASCAM’s PCM Recorder. It is free and has a lot of great features. Here’s the trick: Android has a knock-off version, and it doesn’t get great reviews. My runner up, also for iOS only, is RØDE Rec. There are a lot of voice memo recorders, but I haven’t found a perfect audio app that is available on both iOS and Android. (Send me your recommendations.)
When it comes to photography apps, unlike audio, there are literally hundreds to choose from. I am selecting Google’s Snapseed because it works on both iOS and Android, and it has all the basic and advanced photo editing features you expect from a photo app.
Price: Free (Apple devices only)
In addition to a solid photography app, every digital journalist should download a 360-degree photo sphere app onto their device. Normally I recommend Occipital’s 360 Panorama (iOS only, $1.99), but not this time. Not only because of the price (you can’t beat free), but also because Occipital changed its focus to its Structure Sensor, which does spatial computing for augmented and virtual reality experiences. Bubbli creates spherical, immersive photos with sound. This is a great way to get someone to experience a place without being there. Think a quick, cheap version of virtual reality. Google’s Street View app, available for iOS and Android, allows you to create spherical photos. The interface is pretty great, too!
We’ve covered the basics of what every mobile journalist needs to have when it comes to traditional content creation. But let’s branch out to social apps, not only for sharing our content but also for staying informed.
You follow a ton of smart people across different social media platforms, right? Nuzzel is a platform that aggregates what they are reading/sharing and ranks them based on popularity. Not only can you see what people you follow are reading, but you can see another social layer beyond that: friends of friends.
Nuzzel also has feature feeds. It’s a great place to see what’s worth reading in the vast social stream. Note: My favorite social reading app is — well, was — Zite. It was purchased by Flipboard and killed. Some say it was integrated into Flipboard; I’ll stick with “killed.” Harnessing what your social network is reading and sharing is an incredibly efficient way to know what’s worth your time.
You may have noticed that Twitter and other social platforms are getting into the news game more directly, but one essential social app every journalist needs is Banjo. This app proactively aggregates breaking news from across several social platforms, letting you see what is happening in real time around you and big news stories around the globe.
9) Yik Yak
Speaking of what is going on around you, an app you should know about — for better or worse — is Yik Yak, an anonymous, geo-fences social sharing site. That means people around you are anonymously sharing things.
Popular with the college crowd, this app has gotten traction, but don’t judge it solely based on its, well, blunt college-life content. I have found that users post and ask about news here long before they turn to platforms like Twitter. Yes, among the anonymous posts about pizza, failed midterms, hookups and drugs, you will find some news stories.
Some would argue that this new social platform you likely haven’t heard about is dead by the time you read this. Others would say it was dead moments after it got nerd-traction in social media circles. But I am choosing to write about it, well, because it’s a neat social platform I am still playing with.
Think Facebook + Twitter + Tumblr, plus sprinkle in some Slack. A social platform that is nicely designed to share content with a smaller, intimate community. Bonus: Check out these other small, interesting social platforms as well: This (this.com), Ello (ello.co) and, just for limited giggles, Yo (justyo.com). No, these aren’t replacing Facebook, but they do offer different takes on how to engage content sharing.
This is your one-stop shopping place for all your animated GIF needs. Whether via desktop or mobile app, you can find nearly any reaction GIF for every occasion. (And I give the people at GIPHY bonus points for pronouncing their company name with a hard G.)
Why are GIFs on this list? Like emojis, GIFs are now part of our digital vocabulary. Bonus: It’s Apple device only, but check out Giffiti (giffitiapp.com), which integrates animated GIF “stickers” into your photos. Use responsibly.
Simply put, this communication platform changes lives. Well, work lives. If you haven’t heard, Slack has quickly become the standard for communication among groups, including newsrooms. It does everything you can imagine, and if it doesn’t you can develop custom tweaks to it.
Slack replaces the need for so many work emails. Get on it. Get your team on it. Get your social groups on it. And activate the GIPHY feature.
We’ve looked at great tools for modern journalism, but what about the emerging stuff? Let’s take a look at some new apps you should be exploring to prepare for the next round of disruption.
Let’s start with what is the current “hawtness” among digital nerds. It’s been hyped for decades, but it appears virtual reality is here, and it could find a fruitful home within journalism.
You may have heard that The New York Times has gotten into the VR journalism space with its app NYT VR, but the force behind that was Chris Milk. The innovative filmmaker has been a leader in virtual reality, and the VRSE app is a diverse collection of his studio’s work. You can watch on desktop or use it straight on your phone without the Google Cardboard VR viewer. However, a headset does add to the immersive experience (Pro tip: Get a new View-Master Virtual Reality for $35 or less. The “toy” is the best affordable smartphone headset at the moment.).
There are a lot of apps and experiences you can explore with virtual reality. One I recommend is Vrideo (vrideo.com), which is trying to be the YouTube for 360 videos. But, as you can imagine, YouTube will be that. That said, Vrideo has a great interface and works across all platforms, dealing with the cross-platform distribution challenge.
14) Google Translate (formerly Word Lens)
Virtual reality is certainly getting a lot of buzz, but another type of emerging technology you should keep an eye on is augmented reality. What is it? Well, it’s real life enhanced by digital.
A great example of that is Word Lens, a translation platform purchased by Google and rebranded into Google Translate. Through this app you can point your phone at text on a sign and translate it to another language, matching the font and color. I thought it was a hoax when I first saw this years ago. Download it for free and test it.
Bonus: This is an old tip, but still neat. You have Yelp on your phone, right? Hidden inside the “More” button on the lower corner you will find something called “Monocle.” This little feature converts your Yelp results into an augmented reality overlay. Check it out!
THE TEDIOUS SIDE
The last set of apps aren’t necessarily the most fun, but they are among the most requests I get when I talk about new tech and tools. These applications help us deal with the boring parts of our lives, and I highly recommend you use them.
Price: Free (but can charge for premium features you don’t need)
If you are like any human being on Earth, you hate having to deal with filing for expenses. Expensify solves that painful task through a simple mobile app that allows you to take pictures of receipts and create a report for those bureaucratic bosses.
Bonus: If you travel often — or have a habit of losing travel details — I highly recommend TripIt (tripit.com). Forward your travel plans to the platform (or have it monitor your email) to create one streamlined itinerary. Bonus 2: Whether or not you live in your car like I do in Los Angeles, Waze (waze.com) is an essential app for anyone who has to get into a car. Owned by Google, the app taps into social and the wisdom of the crowd to help your commute.
This is, hands down, the most common request I get from journalists: How can I transcribe my audio or video notes — without paying? The best answer I can give you is this site that offers a better interface to help you be more efficient. No, it isn’t doing the work for you, but it does make it easier.
Technology is changing and, ideally, improving all aspects of our lives. With this new set of tools, I hope it helps you improve your journalism, whether it’s staying informed or being more efficient with your work processes.
And even by selecting more than a dozen tools, this set can seem overwhelming. Don’t worry. Pace yourself. Test these out one at a time.
The goal is for you to be informed and on top of your digital game.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or if you have new tools to share. Take these apps out for a test drive, and I hope they help you have a more successful 2016 and beyond.
Robert Hernandez is an associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School teaching digital journalism and producing journalists you want to hire. He’s a co-founder of the Diversity Project and #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat about the intersection of journalism and technology trends (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET). Email. On Twitter: @webjournalist
Tagged under: diversity