There are several groups of key tools that will help you significantly as an online journalist:
- Physical implements
- Tools to monitor social media
- Tools to find sources
- Tools to find more information on subjects and sources
- Tools for using and accessing government data
- Tools to verify details
- Tools for monitoring trends
Different tools are appropriate for different situations. You will probably not use all of the tools described below (and you may not use any), however knowing what is available may help you work more efficiently and effectively.
Essential Gadgets for Journalists
At any given time, you should be able to:
- Take notes
- Take photographs
- Monitor news / stories
- Record audio or video (bonus)
Thankfully, a smartphone can do all of these things. Though many of the journalists we have interviewed say they often opt to carry around a physical pad and paper, we advise investing in and utilizing a smartphone over everything else, as it provides the most versatility in the smallest package possible.
To get as much out of your smartphone as possible, check out the apps recommended by Investigative Reporters and Editors members, which are particularly well-suited for journalists on the go.
Tools to Monitor Social Media
One of the characteristics that distinguishes a modern online journalist from his or her historical counterparts is an ability to effectively monitor chatter across a wide variety of social media channels and use them to communicate with other journalists, industry leaders, and sources.
Social media monitoring tools enable journalists to conduct research and correspondence across multiple platforms from one central location. They can save an immense amount of time and enable one to more effectively focus on social media during concentrated periods of time (rather than suffer from constant distraction).
The following social monitoring tools are amongst the most popular online:
- Google Alerts and Google Analytics’ Social Reports
- Sprout Social
- Adobe Marketing Cloud
- ExactTarget SocialEngage
The monitoring tools above offer roughly the same basic features (the ability to post or schedule updates, respond to others' posts, monitor keywords, and track multiple feeds). See our guide to selecting and using these tools to review distinguishing characteristics that can help you determine which solution will best suit your personal style.
The tool that is best for you should support the platforms you use most and save time rather than require additional maintenance. Unless you already have access to one, we do not recommend paying for an enterprise-level tool.
Tools for Finding Sources
The following online resources are frequently used by journalists in need of a source:
- Help a Reporter Out: Offers the ability to submit a query to their database of over 200,000 sources who have registered with the site
- Reporter Connection: Similar to Help a Reporter Out; enables you to submit free queries that will be sent out to a large database of over 50,000 potential sources
- The Public Insight Network: Offers a large database of potential sources; best if you work for a newsroom as reporter-centric services are only available through paid accounts
One of the benefits of being an online journalist is the ease with which one can quickly find information about the subject of a story or a source. The following tools can help you get quick backgrounds on potential sources:
- Rapportive: Enables you to see social media profiles (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) related to an individual directly from Gmail
- Facebook: By typing in a subject's email, you can be taken directly to his or her profile
- Identify: A Firefox extension that can help one quickly review an individual's collective digital identity
- Any WHOIS service: To find details about website owners
Tools for Using and Accessing Government Information
Navigating government data is not always easy, but the following resources make the process far more palatable:
- FOIA Machine: A website through which you can submit and track Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the United States government
- CENSUS.IRE.ORG: Makes it incredibly easy to drill down from high level classifications to specific data acquired through the latest United States Census
- The U.S. Government's 2010 Census Data page: Offers links to a myriad of reports and maps
- American FactFinder: Guides journalists through the creation of customized data tables associated with a specific area (their guided search option is particularly user-friendly)
Tools to Verify Content and Details
Information found online is often untrue, hence online journalists must devote a significant amount of time to finding out what can and cannot be trusted. The following tactics and resources can make improve the speed and accuracy of your verification process:
- Trusted relationships: By cultivating an ecosystem of sources that you, over time, find to be trustworthy, you will have to do less work to verify new content
- Phones, Skype, or Google+ Hangouts: These tools enable you to speak with a source (if you have not done so already) before using his or her content in a story; spoken conversations can work wonders in helping you verify identities and details
- Google Images' Search by Image function: Click the camera icon in the search bar to insert an image URL or search by image to see if there are duplicates of an image
- TinEye: Can be used much like Google Images' search by image function to check for duplicate versions of a supposedly-original image
- Wolfram Alpha: This powerful search tool can be used to cross-check information such as the weather in a specific location at a given time
- Google Maps: Google Maps or Street view can be used to cross-check the location of photos or other details about a particular place
Tools for Monitoring Trends
Both social media buzz and search activity can help journalists pick up on trends before the mainstream media catches on. The following tools make it easier to catch trends as they arise in real time:
- Social media monitoring tools: For an overview of popular choices, view our guide to choosing a social media monitoring tool
- Google Trends: Enables you to quickly review trending searches as well as analyze and compare searches for various keywords over time
- Trendsmap: Provides a real-time map of trending concepts on Twitter with an ability to see a feed related to each keyword
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