October Walkley magazine column

The tools available to reporters have changed radically in the past decade, and will continue to evolve. Journalists need to embrace new digital tools to succeed in the multimedia future. It is no longer enough to have native cunning and a word processor.

Journalists tend to embrace new tools if they make the job of storytelling easier – and if those tools are easy and intuitive to use. This article proposes a range of tools that will help the newsgathering process.

Blogs are useful research tools to get a sense of what audiences are talking about. As with newsgroups, the quality of blog information sits on a long continuum from erudite offerings to lunatic ravings, sometimes more often at the latter end of the continuum. As with all information on the web, it pays to be careful.

The Google of the blogosphere is Technorati.com. It works similarly to Google and is a useful way to find out what people are talking about. Think of the content of blogs and podcasts and video blogs as scuttlebutt – like overhearing conversations on public transport or at social events. Sometimes they will stimulate ideas for stories.

Google has a good bog search tool at Blogsearch.google.com.au. The same search terms typed into a blog search tool such as Technorati will produce different results compared with using those same terms in a search engine. So when casting the net wide for information make sure you search both on blogs and search engines.

Blogs blossom so quickly it is difficult to keep up; some analysts suggest 20,000 new blog posts appear each day. A technology known as RSS (“really simple syndication”) helps journalists follow the latest blogs. The technlogy “pulls” content to your computer, as opposed to being “pushed” with email.

Google Reader is a great RSS tool, though you will need to set up a Gmail web-based email account. The latter can be useful when you are on the road. You can have your office email forwarded automatically to a web-based account. A RSS reader checks a list of sites the journalist nominates and displays all updated articles. The software provides summaries of content plus links to the full version of each story. As with email, unread entries are shown in bold.

Google’s Gmail is useful for journalists. The chat option keeps a transcript of all conversations, and if you have a camera on your laptop you can see the person you are chatting with.

Skype offers free software that lets you make free phone calls to anyone who has skype installed on their computer. If you put money into a skype account, you can phone mobiles and landlines. This Poynter column headlined “Skype: Why every journalist should use it” is a helpful read: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=155339

Before the spread of the web, broadcast companies controlled breaking news. Now newspapers easily break news online, often ahead of radio and television. Multimedia breaking news builds and holds audiences for web sites.

Call Recorder software ($US 19.95 from the web for Macintosh computers) works with Skype to record any phone conversation in audio and video formats. The local and remote audio is recorded on different tracks.

This is ideal for people who want to make multimedia slideshows. Software for making slideshows is available from Soundslides.com for $US 39.95, or $US 69.95 for the “pro” version with more bells and whistles.

The simplest and quickest way to get multimedia news on a web site is via the mobile phone. Enter the mojo, a mobile journalist armed with only a mobile phone and a 3G connection. At least five companies offer free software for streaming video from a mobile phone. They are Qik, Shozu and Kyte in the United States, Bambuser in Sweden and Flixwagon in Israel.

The process is simple: Register your mobile phone number at one of these web sites. Within seconds you receive a text message with a link to the software. Click on the link to load it onto the phone. Thereafter, clicking one button opens the video software on the phone and one more begins and ends filming. Video is streamed to the company’s web site.

Of the software mentioned earlier, Qik and Bambuser work best for breaking news. My main criteria for selecting the software were simplicity of use and quality of image. Other mojo software for iPhones is available from iTunes. Showcase ($US 9) is the best for making slideshows with a mobile phone.

Most journalists will be aware of Wikileaks, based on the wiki concept. Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia in San Francisco. He envisioned it as a way to capture the knowledge of the group rather than the individual. Journalists will have to make individual decisions on whether to report based on content found in wikis. Reporters pressed for time to do research might find Answers.wikia.com a useful tool.

Wikis could be a useful collaboration tool for reporters working in different cities, where they pool information in a password-protected site. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of people use the social bookmarking site Delicious to store useful links. These are publicly available on the web, which offers useful research options on specific topics. Type key words into the search box at the top of the screen. Examples of my bookmarks are at Delicious.com/sraquinn/

One of the big developments since early 2008 has been the concept of micro-blogging via the web or mobile phone. Posterous and Twitter were the original tools. Posterous is the simplest to use because everything is done via email.

Free software called TweetDeck offers a powerful tool for working with Twitter. Twitter has become such a large subject that it needs its own column. A site that aggregates all of the photographs put on Twitter can be found at Picfog.com, and the “liveflow” option opens a stream of images.

Finally, all reporters should be using social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo and FriendFeed, though again these require a separate column.

* Stephen Quinn was a journalist for two decades in five countries with some of the world’s premier media before becoming a university teacher in 1996. Dr Quinn, an associate professor of journalism at Deakin University in Victoria, has written 14 books and has run multimedia courses for journalists in nine countries.

* “In touch and on top” in The Walkley magazine, Oct-Nov 2010, page 47.

Categories: journalism tools, Not home

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