Jan 19, 2012

ProfNet #ConnectChat recap: Online tools for journalists

With new websites and online tools popping up every day, it’s hard to keep track of all the resources out there for journalists. In our latest #ConnectChat, Mike Reilley (@journtoolbox), founder of the Society of Professional Journalists’ research site, The Journalist’s Toolbox, shared his expertise on how journalists can improve their reporting using online tools.

Reilley teaches several classes at DePaul University, including courses on online journalism, news editing, multiplatform news editing, reporting for converged newsrooms, online sports reporting and an intro to journalism. He was one of the 11 founding editors of ChicagoTribune.com, and serves as faculty adviser to DePaul’s SPJ chapter, named National Student Chapter of the Year in 2011. He and his students run a weekly Twitter chat, #SPJchat, for the SPJ National office. The Thursday night discussions, which start at 7 p.m. CST, explore various issues in the journalism world.

Following are highlights of the chat:

ProfNet: For those not familiar with the Journalist’s Toolbox, can you tell us a little more about it?

Reilley: The Journalist’s Toolbox started as 10 links off an online news-writing syllabus when I taught at Medill in the late 1990s. I turned it into a dot-com in 2000, sold it to the American Press Institute in 2002, then resold to SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) in 2007. SPJ has been a great home for the Toolbox and elevated what we can do with it. I update the site 2-3 times a week with helpful tools for journalists. The site is organized by beats/topics for newsrooms. We have a lot of election resources on the Toolbox right now.

ProfNet: What are some of the newest online tools for journalists?

Reilley: Storify is great for curating social media coverage of news stories. Here’s a Storify we did of the Blagojevich sentencing: t.co/mjyL1sRx. Here’s a Storify we did from the Chicago blizzard last February: t.co/YMCnS64o. Storify is free and a great way to create sidebars/reaction stories to supplement your reporting. I’ve also been toying with Dipity, a free tool that creates timelines. Students really like it. Delicious and Pinboard.in are great for bookmark links. Here’s how I use Delicious: www.delicious.com/mreilley. Some of my old favorites: PACER for court documents; Open Secrets for campaign fund tracking; Guidestar to track down Form 990s and public documents. Many public records sites are on this Journalist’s Toolbox page: t.co/8ELWILPH. PACER and Guidestar do have fees for public records.

@NewsworthyinDC: What are the most common missteps new journalist make?

Reilley: Credibility is a huge obstacle for young journalists. You have to double- and triple-check everything. Once you earn the readers’ and editors’ trust, you’re set. Also: Don’t be afraid to take stories nobody wants!

ProfNet: Great advice! Do as many as you can.

@meg_heckman: Any examples of tools that help news organizations foster community engagement?

Reilley: We just talked about this in class. I like Twitter chats (hashtags) as well as CoverItLive (free live-chat tool). Also, Storify local reaction to major news events (bin Laden’s death). Search Trendsmap.com by ZIP Code.

ProfNet: You listed some good tools for journalists. Any others before we go to the next question?

Reilley: I like Hootsuite as my desktop Twitter client. You can manage up to four accounts for free. Hootsuite also has an iPhone app, though I use Twitter for the iPhone as my main mobile client. Other good mobile apps for journalists: Dragon Dictation, Convertbot, Wolfram Alpha, Pages, Numbers, Thesaurus, Factbook, Delicious bookmarks, Foursquare, Dropbox, Evernote, Photoshop Express, ReelDirector video editor, ProPrompter, Recorder, Recorder Pro, Garage Band, Soundcloud.

@meg_heckman: Our reporters are in love with SoundNote on the iPad 2. Any tutorials out there on using Wolfram Alpha?

Reilley: Never used SoundNote but will try it. I just used Wolfram trial and error to learn it. Search YouTube for a tutorial.

ProfNet: What about more popular sites, like Facebook and Twitter? How can journalists use those (or use them more strategically)?

Reilley: Facebook: Join groups/pages that may help you in your job. For example: I belong to Social Media Educators group. Create a page for readers to follow/interact with you. Nancy Loo of WGN-TV is great at this. Follow her and see. Twitter: Interact with readers. Share your stories/blogs that are published. Use social media curation to supplement your reporting. Hold online chats with a hashtag in your community about a story or issue you wrote about.

@bikespoke: Kred is an interesting new tool that helps you understand those who truly influence and connect.

Reilley: I will definitely check out Kred.

@comminternships: What multimedia tools do today’s journalism students need to be equipped with when they walk out the door?

Reilley: They need to be able to write a basic news story, single-topic blog, edit video (Final Cut), edit audio (Garage Band/Audacity), build audio slideshows (Soundslides), podcast and use social media.

ProfNet: That’s a lot to ask of them! Will they learn that in journalism school, or should they take other types of courses?

Reilley: Most good journalism schools teach software and tools in reporting/editing classes. Some students may take digital media outside. If your schools don’t teach social media and technology, ask them to! We really pressed for this at DePaul and got it!

ProfNet: What’s the most challenging part of teaching social media to students?

Reilley: Getting them to look past Twitter and Facebook as just tools to talk about themselves or “open text” friends. It’s still a hard sell with some students, but they realize they must use social media to work in journalism. Each year it gets a bit easier to teach social media. More students are using Twitter coming into class than 2-3 years ago.

@comminternships: For me, it’s teaching them that personal and professional shouldn’t mix in a social media feed. Have a separate account for each. In other words, don’t drunk tweet tonight and then tweet about a news story tomorrow.

Reilley: Or post drunk photos to your Facebook page! Ha!

@comminternships: One issue I’m finding in the classroom is students are more focused on the technology than on the writing — or the grammar.

Reilley: Good point. I teach an editing class on Wednesday nights. Start with iPad grammar apps, but use a grammar book too.

ProfNet: Do you think reporters should have separate social media accounts, one for personal and one for work?

Reilley: Good question. It depends how much they use the accounts for personal sharing. If you live-tweet your life, then separate. But if you balance it out — 70 percent professional and 30 personal personal — one account could work. Also, don’t tie Twitter to Facebook and LinkedIn. They’re usually different audiences or redundant for those who follow you on all two or three.

@comminternships: I advocate for separate personal and professional accounts, especially for students, because their professional and personal widely diverge.

@SaleemChat: It may be prudent to have a separate account if you want to post about intensely personal parts of your life. I find it useful to separate accounts by activity, e.g., a separate chat account, and one for high-volume live-tweeting.

ProfNet: Will social media ever be a suitable replacement for traditional forms of reporting, or just another platform?

Reilley: Absolutely not. It supplements first-hand reporting. @acarvin of NPR talked about this at SPJ’s national conference this year. You can use Twitter or Facebook to crowdsource and develop sources/relationships anywhere, but social media doesn’t replace a first-person, one-on-one interview.

@thegrammarnazi: Nor does e-mail, students.

@SaleemChat: The “Z replaces Y, which replaces X” formula is wrong-headed. New tools supplement or round out ways to tell stories/engage.

ProfNet: Any tips for PR professionals wanting to connect with reporters on social media?

Reilley: Yes, follow the key media in your field and encourage them to follow back. Keep pitches short (140 characters!). The key to building a relationship with reporters is to give them relevant information and provide access. A good place for PR people to go and find journalists on social media is Muckrack.com. It’s organized by beats, outlets.

@SaleemChat: Keep pitches to 140 characters in email, too, with background below. I don’t like to be pitched on Twitter, nor do others I know. Engage on matters of substance first. Ask how to pitch.

Reilley: Some do like to be pitched on Twitter. DM with a link. It’s easy to check and frees up clutter in email.

ProfNet: You also host the weekly #spjchat. Can you tell us more about that?

Reilley: Thanks! Yes, #spjchat has been on hiatus for a bit but will return in February with new guests. Follow @spjchat. The chat will be on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. CST, staring in February. @spjdepaul students and I run it: t.co/96iS7pND. We cover a wide range of journalism topics: ethics, social media, sports, copy editing, entertainment reporting, etc. @acarvin of NPR was the most popular guest. We archive the chat on Storify: storify.com/spjchat

ProfNet: That’s about all the time we have today. Mike, thank you SO much for taking the time to answer our questions! And thank you to everyone who participated!

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

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