3 Must-Use Online Tools for Journalists

As I mentioned earlier, this weekend I’m speaking at the annual conference of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

On Saturday, Jeff South (Va. Commonwealth Univ.) and I will be hosting a session from 3:30-4:30 pm on this theme: “Technology: A User’s Guide to Software, Hardware and Other Tools Revolutionizing Journalism.” (Incidentally, just before that, from 2:15-3:15, is a session hosted by Robert Cox of the Media Bloggers Association entitled “The Good and Bad About Blogging.” I’m definitely going to sit in on that one, and will live blog it if there’s good wifi.)

Jeff’s handout for our session is available as a pdf download from SPJ because he’s organized enough to get his handout done and in to SPJ on time.

In contrast, I only finished my SPJ session handout yesterday, shortly before I dashed off to host the first-ever Front Range Blogger Meetup (which was a huge success and I’ll blog about that next). So here is my handout for the session: Top 3 Must-Use Online Tools for Journalists (pdf).

If you’re not a fan of pdf files, here’s the text of that handout…

Top 3 Must-Use Online Tools for Journalists

These are the barest online essentials I think any journalist needs in order to keep doing your job well in the online age.

1. Furl: Free service where you can store a complete copy of any web page to create your own personal online full-text-searchable library of interesting stuff. You can categorize and rate entries as you like, e-mail links to a contact list, make notes, etc.

“Furling� a page takes only a few seconds, via a browser toolbar button. You can share and download your archive, and make individual items public or private. Virtually unlimited storage space. Disadvantage: Doesn’t archive pdfs or other non-HTML documents.

SO WHAT? If your routinely “furl� any pages of potential interest, you’ll be able to do things like have a record of what a controversial web page (such as a proposed regulation) looked like before it was quietly altered or removed. And you’ll be able to instantly answer questions such as, “Hey, didn’t I read a study a few months ago about PCB-contaminated dredging sediments?�

  • Similar services: Spurl, Blinklist
  • Related tool: Firefox search toolbar plugin: My Furl Archive. Lets you search your Furl archive without having to go to the Furl site.

2. Feeds (RSS): A way to read the internet without having to visit every site. Alerts of fresh content that come directly to you, but that don’t rely on e-mail. Benefits over e-mail alerts: more reliable, less clutter, totally spam-proof.

SO WHAT? Makes it faster and easier to keep an eye on your beat. Easier and more organized than getting press releases by e-mail. Can fetch feeds on mobile devices and read offline. Search feeds (feeds generated from saved search queries) can be an excellent, ongoing, automated source of leads way ahead of the curve.

You need a feed reader tool to subscribe and read feeds. Don’t get trapped: Use only feed readers that allow you to import/export your feed list (which is an OPML file).

Some feed reader options (all free):

  • Bloglines (click “full bloglinesâ€? to register and learn more): Web-based, versatile service, good support for net access via mobile devices.
  • Newsgator: Very nice interface. Offers a free web-based version (register). If you like the free Newsgator, they offer a lot of reasonably priced tools you can install on your computer (like NetNewsWire and FeedDemon), and premium services.
  • Sage: Very bare-bones, basic feed reader plug-in for the Firefox web browser. Amy uses this.
  • Pluck: More sophisticated browser plug-in feed reader. Available for as a plugin for either internet Explorer or Firefox.
  • Safari: The default Mac OS X web browser comes with a built-in feed reader.

3. Feed search engines, such as Technorati: Best way to quickly learn what’s new online, as opposed to simply what’s available online. Great for staying abreast of weblogs and niche news sites, breaking news, and any online resource that publishes feeds.

These sites aggregate millions of feeds. So if a feed gets submitted to, say, Technorati, then within an hour or so after an alert of a new content item hits that feed, it’ll start appearing in Technorati search results – whereas it may take days, weeks, or months for Google to index that content. Drawback: spamming is common.

Similar services:

  • Icerocket: Amy’s favorite – less spam, nice interface.
  • BlogPulse: Also allows you to track conversations

Other cool stuff we can discuss. Ask Amy about:

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