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Ten tools to improve your online journalism

Do you dream of being the digital journalists with lot of interactive story telling techniques? It is easier than ever to impress your colleagues and readers. Here are ten very simple tools.

Ten tools to improve your online journalism

Many journalists think they need to be able to program to use advanced interactive story telling techniques in their online stories.

That is no longer so.

Instead you need to learn to embed something into your online stories. Once you have learned that, you have access to unlimited creative possibilities.

Embedding simply means that you incorporate an element from a different web site into your own. This is usually done by pasting a few lines of code into your article.

The most common element to embed is YouTube videos. But if you start looking, you will find thousands of other services that can be used to enrich your online journalism.

Here are ten tools that can be useful for journalists. All tools presented here are free to use at the basic level. However, several of them also offer a premium level, typically with more options and opportunities for customized branding.

Consider it just a starting point. I would love if you contribute other tools in the comments below!

1.Embed videos: YouTube.com

Whatever you write about, chances are high that someone has uploaded a great and relevant video to YouTube, vimeo.com or other video sites.  Choose “embed” under the video you like, select the size of the video and copy the code you are given to paste into your site.

As an example: Here is a video from YouTube made for a previous blog post about an interesting example of innovative journalism:

2. Create timelines:  Dipity.com

Timelines is a great way of illustrating how a story has developed over time. One easy-to-use tool for creating elegant timelines is Dipity.com. Timelines can be created manually – or by incorporating RSS feeds or by importing content from services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google, etc.

Just for illustration: Here is a quick timeline I put together displaying a few of the BetaTales articles in 2010.

3. Use interactive maps:  Umapper.com

Maps can be used to illustrate articles in many ways. The most common is to use Google Maps directly.  But there are also a number of excellent third party services that give you even more creative possibilities. Personally I like the service from Umapper.com.

One cool functionality is to make a geo game map, such as the one below:

More to read about using maps: Five ways to take your map mashups to a new level (10.000 words)

4. Include any document in your story: Scribd.com

Journalists often need to quote reports and documents in their stories. Sometimes the whole article can be about the content of a specific document. Many journalists then choose to include a link to the document. But wouldn’t it be even better if you could include the document in your own article?

You can! Scribd.com is a great service for embedding any kind of documents. The process is very simple: Create an account, upload the document you want to embed and then grab the embed code.

As an example: Here is the digital media handbook of Society of Professional Journalists:

There is a similar great service for sharing Powerpoint presentations: Slideshare.net. These presentations can also easily be embedded into any article.

5. Live blogging: Coveritlive.com

Coveritlive is a fantastic tool for live events and it is being used regurlarly by thousands of media sites as well as numerous bloggers.  It can be used for simple live blogging or as a platform for sharing video, sound and interacting with readers.

Many news sites used Coveritlive as part of their coverage of the recent earth quake in Japan. See one example from Belgium here.

6.Put social media content together: Storify.com

Another tool that can work out very well when news happen fast is Storify. This service is particularly good when you quickly need to incorporate selected content from social media into an article.

See an example here:

7. Slideshow: Flickr.com

For creating a simple slideshow with several photos you can use Flickr.com.  It is very easy: Upload your photos, put them together as a set, view them as slideshow and then choose “Share” and “Grab the embed HTML”.

Here is an example of a set of photos I took on Stung Meanchey, a huge garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

There are many more tools to make slideshows, some of them quite advanced. Several let you make soundslides as well, adding audio to your presentation. Here are some of the options:

  • Soundslides: A premium product to make soundslides
  • Animoto: Another premium service to let you make videos mixing images and audio
8. Add live video: Qik.com

Do you want to live broadcast from a news scene? It is actually not that difficult if you use your smartphone. A very useful service for this is Qik.com.

To use qik you need to download an application to your smartphone. They support a large number of different models.

On the news scene you can use Qik to record a video. Immediately the video is streamed to your qik account, from where you can embed it into any story.

This is a very convenient way to bring short news clips to your readers. There is no need to upload a video anywhere. By using qik the video is immedieately stored on your account – live as you record.

Here is an example of a video recorded by qik:

Another, and more sophisticated service for live video is Livestream. You may want to check out the Procaster service, which for instance enables you to make a broadcast of going through different web pages live.

9. Add a word cloud: Wordle.net

Say you have to write about the speech of your prime minister. Or you cover a new government report. And then you run into the typical challenge: How to illustrate the article in a good way?

Have you considered using a word cloud? Wordle.net is a fascinating service that lets you take any word input, for instance the entire speech of the prime minister, and make a colorful word cloud. In this cloud words that are most frequently used will be bigger than others.

Here is a word cloud I created on the basis of the RSS feed of this blog:

10. Include a poll: PollDaddy.com

Engage your readers! One way is by including a poll where you ask them to vote on a question.

PollDaddy is one of many services offering you to create a poll easily and without any technical skills.

And now: As you are at the end of this article, you might as well let me know how useful you found this posting to be. Please vote below!

Added bonus 1: Tool list

Here is a great list of tools for journalists, picked by David Brewer: Social Media Kitbag for Journalists.

Brewer is running the great website Media Helping Media, a site dedicated to helping journalists where media is still developing.

One of the tools suggested in his list is Thinglink.  It allowes you to share links inside any photos on your site, making them interactive elements of stories. I have tagged the first photo of this post using this tool.  Move your mouse over it to see how it works.  To me it seems like a tool with great editorial potensial.

Added bonus 2:  Use 360 degrees panorama photos

Microsoft just launched its Photosynth app for iPhone – and with this you have a simple tool to easily take and include 360 degrees panorama photos into any story.

Here is an example I took at the Akershus fortress in Oslo, Norway:

About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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