The ABCs of Digital Journalism Tools: Helpful Apps and Sites to Make Your Job Easier

From A-Z: Useful Tools for Digital Journalism header. Image is an overhead photo of an assortment of tools like scissors, saws, pocket knives, etc.

Looking for new digital journalism tools? Well, you’re in luck because we uncovered some/one for every letter of the alphabet.

These tools can help with each step of your writing process, including brainstorming, research, writing, multimedia/visuals creation, and analytics/monitoring.

Let’s dig in.

A

Account Analysis for Twitter

Account Analysis looks at all of a Twitter user’s public tweets and provides an analysis through easy-to-grasp visualizations. It’s helpful for anyone trying to learn more about another user, whether you want to make sure someone is legit before you embed a tweet in a story, fact-check a bold claim, or attempt to identify if a user is a bot or not.

Answer the Public

Answering a question for searchers is key to getting your content to show up in search results. But how to do you know what the question is? With Answer the Public, you can plug in a keyword and the tool will give you the most popular Google and Bing searches around that term for a given location. Free and paid options are available depending on your needs.

AP StyleGuard

Can’t keep up with the AP changes between edition prints? This tool provides automatic AP style checking and makes sure your writing is consistent.

ArcGIS

So many people want location-based information and ArcGIS offers a number of ways to create shareable maps. The Living Atlas also offers a huge amount of demographic data, images, and maps to help you find content for your project.

Audioburst

Need a soundbite for your story? Audioburst is a vast library of live and prerecorded audio content from radio stations and podcasts. You also can create a customized stream based on interests and trending topics.

Authory

This site calls itself “the perfect toolkit for every journalist.” Authory allows you to permanently back-up any articles you write, regardless of where they originally were published, monitor their performance on social media, and also set up a newsletter for your readers.

B

Bear

This writing app for Mac and iOS is known for its speed and ease of use. Features include an Advanced Markup Editor and the ability to export in multiple formats including HTML, PDF, DOCX, MD, JPG, and more.

BIGVU

BIGVU is a popular video creation tool for iOS and Android devices. With the app, you can use your phone as a teleprompter, replace green screen backgrounds, and create video sequences from social media posts.

Broadcastify

The site collects and makes available public safety and other audio streams from across the country. Even better, with a small annual subscription, it gives users access to archived streams up to 180 days old.

BuzzSumo

If you have a topic in mind but are having trouble coming up with a headline, BuzzSumo can show you what headlines are performing best for that topic. You also can provide the URL for a competitor and see what headlines are working best for them. After a seven-day free trial, you can choose between a number of tiered paid plans.

C

CARROT

This is a to-do list app with personality for iOS devices. If you need a little humor to keep you on task, CARROT makes getting things done fun and addictive.

CloudConvert

Convert anything to anything in the cloud with this tool. CloudConvert supports more than 200 formats, including PDF, audio, vector, presentation, and website. Free and pay-as-you-go packages are available.

CrowdTangle

This content discovery and social monitoring platform lets writers view the performance of their social profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. Cross-platform reports also are available to give a comprehensive look at your total social performance. Access to historical data also makes it possible to determine long-term trends.

D

De-Jargonizer

Avoiding jargon and using natural language is important to making sure your story appeals to a broad audience. It also affects how likely the story is to come up in search results. This is a helpful tool that tells you how accessible your article is. Just paste your text in or upload a document and De-Jargonizer will quickly give you an easy-to-read analysis on which words may be difficult for readers to understand.

Dexter

Need to engage with readers right from the site? Dexter is a chat bot-building tool with a simple interface that allows you to write the dialogue in a text editor. It works with Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twilio SMS, Twitter, and more. It also has a phone built into the console, so you can test how the dialogue will look on a screen.

DocumentCloud

DocumentCloud is a nonprofit committed to improving trust and transparency in journalism. The platform helps journalists share, analyze, annotate and, ultimately, publish source documents to the open web.

Down For Everyone Or Just Me?

Having trouble accessing a website for story material? This tool is a quick, easy way to find out if you’re on the only one having issues.

E

Echosec

Echosec uses geofencing technology to provide location-based social media data from more than nine social networks. Journalists use the tool to get a picture of events as they unfold in real time.

Exposure

Exposure is a platform for hosting video and photo websites. Users can upload an unlimited number of assets, create their own domain name, and create mailing lists. Stories, and even a user’s full site, are embeddable.

F

Facebook Live Map

This Facebook feature can be useful during large breaking news events. Hovering over the markers on the map pulls up the live video and also displays the number of people currently viewing it. Videos also are embeddable.

Findguidelin.es

Searching for brand logos online can be difficult when the results are low-resolution or out-of-date. Findguidelin.es is an easy way to quickly find web guidelines from the most popular brands, including social media sites. It’s also a collaborative site, allowing you to add your own assets.

Flourish 

Flourish is a data visualization tool that allows journalists to convert data into charts, maps, and more, no coding experience needed. Striking, mobile-friendly visuals can be created in a matter of minutes to help engage your audience. Flourish also offers free accounts to newsrooms that qualify.

FOIA Machine

This free tool offers journalists a way to file a public records request with all the necessary legal boilerplate details. You also can track the progress of your request or share the request with other users.

Free Speech Tracker

Part of the Free Speech Project, this tracker offers a compilation of interesting events about the First Amendment being exercised, debated, or tested. It’s free-of-charge to the public, updated regularly, and is neutral and nonpartisan.

G

Gather

Gather allows engaged journalists to connect, collaborate, and learn with their peers. The platform brings journalists, tech specialists, artists, researchers, and professors together with a mission to improve the future of journalism. Whether you need help with a project or have lessons to share with the community, Gather is a great way to bring yourself out of isolation and work together.

Google Reverse Image Search

Upload an image and the search engine will give you any page with a similar image. The tool is useful for verifying the source of images, screenshots or memes for a story. You also can upload an image in the Google search bar using the camera icon.

H

Hootsuite

This social media management tool allows users to schedule posts to the major social media platforms. The Hootsuite dashboard can help you save time by managing multiple social media profiles from one place and also offers analytics and monitoring features. Multiple plans are available and range in price depending on the number of users, but there’s also a free plan for single users (up to three social profiles).

How to Write Magnetic Headlines (eBook)

Copyblogger created this eBook with steps to convert a website browser into a reader with effective headline writing. Headlines are the most valuable real estate in a story and it’s critical that they draw readers in.

I

Import.io

This internet scraping tool is useful for journalists looking for data to build a story. With Import.io, writers can pull data from multiple sources, like the US Census Bureau, World Health Organization, and CIA World Factbook.

Infogram

Including an infographic with your story is a great way to increase engagement among readers. This is an easy-to-use tool for creating infographics and other data visualizations like charts, maps, and reports that present your data in a compelling format. Extra features like analytics, images, and templates are available with paid packages.

InterviewJS

InterviewJS is a free tool that turns “interviews into shareable and embeddable interactive chats.” Messenger bubbles, videos, and sound can be included before publishing the interview, which are mobile-friendly and shareable.

J

JuxtaposeJS

Before/after comparisons can be a powerful way to show the impact of single events, like a natural disaster or slow changes over time. One of many useful tools from Knight Lab, JuxtaposeJS is free and user-friendly – all you need are the two images for comparison and you’re set.

Journalist Security Guide

Author Frank Smyth is a senior adviser for journalist security with the Committee to Protect Journalists. With many journalists working in dangerous situations to report on street crime, armed conflicts, or sensitive political stories, CPJ wants to make sure writers are informed, prepared, and know how to take care of themselves and others. The document covers basics like how to obtain credentials and lodging, as well as information on planning exit routes, building a network of contacts, and using encryption tools for your data.

K

KoBoToolbox

KoBoToolbox is a free and open source tool for field data collection in challenging environments, like humanitarian crises or natural disasters. Developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, journalists can create and share survey forms to collect data, and perform analyses and mapping. The site allows you to archive questions for future use, and no internet connection is needed to collect data – it’s stored offline and will sync when you’re back online.

L

Lingofy

Lingofy is a virtual proofreader that ensures your content is accurate, error-free and consistent with your brand and voice. There are multiple style guides and dictionaries available to make sure your writing is consistent and you can use it directly from your favorite text editor like WordPress, Office, or others.

Little Sis

Little Sis, the “opposite of big brother,” is a free-to-use database that shows connections between powerful individuals and organizations. The site organizes data about these relationships to provide transparency for journalists, watchdogs, and grassroots activists.

LumaFusion

LumaFusion is a video editing and effects app for iOS. It’s used by beginners and professional video creators for their visual storytelling. Mobile journalists can use the app to edit video and audio as well as add effects like color correction or slow motion.

M

Mailvelop

Mailvelop is a free, open source software that makes email encryption convenient for journalists. Journalists needing to protect confidential sources or working on high-risk stories, for example, should be using encryption services to secure their professional and even personal communications. Mailvelop works with almost any webmail provider (Gmail, Outlook, etc.).

Measures for Justice

Designed to increase the transparency of local justice systems, Measures for Justice is a data portal with county-by-county criminal justice data for six states — Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. The living website plans to recollect data every two years to show trends.

MuckRock Slack Channel

The MuckRock Slack channel is a free discussion forum for constructive dialogue on both the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as well as state public records laws. Regularly scheduled chats also are available that discuss current issues with public records. The community is made up of journalists, scholars, lawyers, activists, and others with a common goal of a more transparent government.

N

NewsCred WordPress Plugin

Search, insert, and edit full text articles in your blog from trusted sources like Bloomberg, Reuters, and Associated Press. This allows you to keep your site fresh with quality content that drives traffic.

Nuzzel

This app is used by journalists to cut through the noise on social media to find trending news in their industries. The news monitoring and research tool is available for iOS and Android devices.

O

Optimizely

Optimizely is an experimentation platform. It’s useful for journalists who want to test the performance of a headline before it’s published. Testing can be done on a headline for specific metrics, such as click-through rates, conversions, social media shares, or engagement. There’s also A/B testing to compare multiple headlines.

Overview

Overview is an open source data mining tool that was built for investigative journalists. It can process about 100 documents per minute and offers full-text search, visualizations like word clouds, and can also auto-sort documents by topic and subject.

OpenSpending

Journalists use OpenSpending to investigate public financial data. Data includes budgets, spending, and balance sheets. The open community format allows any individual or organization – non-profit and for-profit – to contribute information.

oTranscribe

Transcribing audio can be a rough process. This online transcription tool makes the tedious task easier – it can export to multiple platforms, supports video files and allows you to transcribe without taking your hands off the keyboard.

P

PIPL

This is the world’s largest people search engine. Journalists only need one piece of data, like an email address, to verify information about a person, like their name, work history and social profiles. It can help you gain insights and usable information on your contacts.

Playbuzz

Not just for online quizzes, Playbuzz also offers an intuitive video creator tool. There’s also a large video clip library available to creators, a result of Playbuzz’s deal with Getty.

Q

Quackbot

Quackbot was created by DocumentCloud and Quartz to make journalists’ lives easier. Once it’s added in Slack, the open-source software can take screenshots, archive websites, or select reliable data sources.

Atlas (powered by Quartz)

Find and share stunning charts for your story using Atlas. Registered users also can create their own charts. You can browse a huge selection of visuals related to tech, finance, economics, and more.

R

Realtime Board

This online whiteboard is a great tool for journalists who are collaborating with one or more of team members working remotely. Users can provide instant feedback to avoid emailing back and forth, or vote for favorite ideas to make decisions faster. Digital sticky notes and flowcharts are available, as well as a number of plug-ins that allow you to work with your favorite apps and tools within the platform.

Roundme

Roundme makes it easy to create 360-degree panoramas or virtual tours. A great option for travel writing, these also can be useful when a simple photo just doesn’t cut it and you want the reader to feel like they’re in the photographer’s shoes.

S

SnapStream

Search TV for story ideas, share them with your team, or get a clip or GIF from TV to social in seconds. Called the “DVR for Business” SnapStream allows you to record TV (up to 100 channels at once), use closed captioning to search TV in real time, and create and share TV clips.

SoundciteJS

Instead of making readers choose between reading and listening, use Soundcite to add inline sound bites. Choose a word or phrase to link to the audio, and it will play right from the text when clicked on. The site offers a few ideas like music, spoken word, and natural sound, but the options seem endless with this tool.

Sqoop

Sqoop saves journalists time by offering one place to search for company news about SEC filings, patents, court dockets, releases from the DOJ, and more. Sign-up is free for journalists, and there’s also an option to set up email alerts for news that matches your needs.

StorylineJS

Build an interactive line chart with StoryLine that will work on any site or blog. The simple 3-step process creates a simple yet effective visualization of your data.

StoryMapJS

Like the name suggests, this tool is a way to use a map to tell your story. You can also use large images like works of art and create slides to move your reader through the story. For a fun example, take a look at Game of Thrones: Arya’s Journey.

Sutori

Use Sutori to create a unique visual timeline for your story. The Essential plan is free for journalists, with additional options like audio, video, and more customization available with the paid options.

Sway

Create visual content like newsletters and reports that don’t look like everyone else’s. No design know-how is needed, just add your text and images, Sway will do the rest. It’s free for anyone with a Microsoft account (Hotmail, Live, or Outlook.com).

T

TapeACall 

Need to record an upcoming phone interview, or a call you’re already on? This app, available in the App Store, lets you record, download, and share it easily.

TechForReporters 

Currently in beta, this site gives reporters access to programmers, engineers, and designers to answer tech-related questions for their stories. Questions can be posed publicly or privately and the experts are also available to receive messages directly.

TimelineJS

This free tool pulls data from a Google spreadsheet and media from a number of social networks and websites to create interactive timelines to tell a story. Those with some technical knowledge can further customize the basic timelines.

U

URLscan.io

This is a useful tool to find out if a site is malicious, using phishing tactics or possibly impersonating another brand.

Unsplash

Ideally, you shouldn’t publish a story without a visual element. Photos, videos, and other multimedia are ways to bring attention to the content and promote social sharing. If you’re in need of a quality photo for your story, Unsplash boasts a library of over half a million high-quality free images that can be used without attribution.

V

Veracio

Veracio is a user-friendly survey creation tool that also weighs results with Census data to give you an idea if your results accurately reflect your community. This means inaccuracies are minimized. The service is free, you can make as many surveys as you want, and surveys are embeddable.

Versionista

This URL monitoring tool crawls websites of your choosing and, based on filters you create, extracts core content changes and includes these in daily/weekly emails and side-by-side text comparisons. It’s particularly useful for monitoring updates on government and political sites.

Visual Investigative Scenarios (VIS)

A data visualization tool built in part for investigative journalists, VIS converts complex data into simple visual representations. VIS wants to help the public understand “corruption, organized crime and other wrongdoings” quickly and easily. Projects can be exported for online, print, or broadcast media.

W

Wavve 

Wavve makes it simple to share audio clips on social media channels. Create a custom video with your branding and design. HD templates are also available in the sizes most suitable for each social network.

Websta.me

This Instagram analytics tool gives you a better understanding of your posts’ performance and engagement. You also can manage your account and create custom feeds around a group of influencers, competitors, or specific news events, for example. Websta widgets are available to display your Instagram posts on your blog or website.

X

XMind

When coming up with your next story, it’s important to keep ideas organized. XMind is a brainstorming tool that helps you make creative mind maps that can aide in efficiency, creativity, and collaborations.

Y

YouTube Dataviewer

All you need is a YouTube URL for this tool to pull any hidden data from the hosted video. Amnesty International created the tool to help verify newsworthy user-generated videos. Data includes the upload time and all thumbnails associated with the video, which are crucial details needed to verify the video.

Z

Zotero

If you need a place to store, organize, and share your research for an upcoming story, Zotero is a free tool built for that exact purpose. The software can sense when you’re viewing research materials on the web and can automatically save it for reference. Co-writing and bibliography creation features also are available.

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Author Rocky Parker works in audience relations at PR Newswire. When she’s not working, Rocky can be found testing new recipes, binge watching a new Netflix series, or taking her pitbull puppy Hudson out around town. Anna Jasinski is a former senior manager of audience relations with PR Newswire and a former magazine journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski.

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