By Eric Newton
Beckett wanted to know about the newest digital tools journalists are using to do accountability journalism (which some of us still call watchdog journalism). My first reaction was to mention some of the “golden oldies” Knight Foundation has funded and followed: the encryption software Tor; the investigative paper-tamer Document Cloud and its advanced story-finding cousin Overview; the visual storytelling tool Timeline JS; and the classic crowdmapping application Ushahidi.
I say golden oldies because in digital years a lifetime for a product seems like about 21 months. “Moore’s Law” predicted chip-processing power would double about every 18 months. It more or less has for decades, and each wave of chips remakes the digital world. In digital time, that means a tool born in 2012 was born a lifetime ago.
There’s nothing wrong with the classic tools; they just aren’t the latest ones. So I turned to Ben Wirz, who a couple of digital lifetimes ago joined Knight as director of business consulting. Ben helps lead the Knight Enterprise Fund, which invests in startup companies.
Here are his notes on tools journalists and news organizations should try:
- Creatavist: Enables beautiful, media-rich publishing to the web, e-books and mobile apps. More than 8,000 users. Free for individuals. Samples are here and here.
- Videolicious: A simple way to generate videos from a mobile device, it’s being used by more than 100 publishers, particularly newspapers. Free for individuals. A demo is here.
- Pop: A new kind of mobile visual storytelling approach that launched in February. Being used by NowthisNews. Free.
- Wickr: The safest way for journalists—and anyone—to communicate via mobile, and more than a million people are using it. Free.
- Captricity: A low-cost data crunching tool that can be used to cheaply process paper forms into digital data. Paid. A demo is here.
- Poetica: Makes it easy to collaboratively edit docs on Gmail, WordPress and Evernote. Free.
- Crowdtangle: A simple way to track and optimize content for social media. Paid.
- Submittable: Helps solicit, collect, edit and charge for submissions. More than 10 million submissions and $4 million generated by publisher customers in 2013. Paid. You can sign up for a demo account here.
Good tools are coming at such a rapid rate that it is probably time for some kind of journalistic version of Consumer Reports, which would test and rate them in an organized way and let everyone know what’s taking off. Many of our good tool-watchers cover things as they happen. That’s excellent, but not the same as a comprehensive comparison.
A really great, constantly updated, journalism-friendly guide to new tools will be illustrative in more than one way. When you see the scores of powerful new tools out there, and realize how many are good and how few we from traditional media seem to have the capacity to absorb, you ask the proper question: How can we learn to use these tools not in human years, or dog years, but in digital years?
Eric Newton is senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation. In the journalism program at Knight he helped develop more than $300 million in grants. Follow him on Twitter here.
This post originally appeared on the Knight Blog, the blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and was cross-posted by IJNet partner PBS MediaShift. It is published on IJNet with permission.
MediaShift tells stories of how the shifting media landscape is changing the way we get our news and information. MediaShift correspondents explain how traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, music and movies are dealing with digital disruption and adapting their business models for a more mobile, networked world. Learn more at MediaShift on the web, follow MediaShift on Twitter or on Facebook.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Jisc.
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