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Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Digital Media Toolbox

Tools for every journalist's toolbox

By Jamie DeLoma

The Web offers journalists countless free opportunities to enhance their reporting. The biggest hurdle facing them is knowing where to find the most relevant and timely information.

Google should be part of every journalist’s e-toolkit. In addition to quickly locating pertinent search results and maps, the technology giant also highlights trends, allows for easy sifting through government databases, and even allows folks to follow the spread of the flu. The number of story ideas and unique angles to report are limited only by the creativity of the reporter.

Every journalist should consider utilizing Google Voice to create a new local phone number that forwards calls to a reporter’s everyday phone number. This protects one’s direct contact information but still allows complete accessibility to the public. Included in the service are visual voicemail and tools that block unwanted callers. Check it out at google.com/voice.

Among Google’s other highlights:

GOOGLE READER

Google Reader is an important tool that allows journalists to harness relevant news through RSS feeds from a reporter’s most frequently visited websites. In addition to Google Reader, it is imperative journalists take advantage of Google Alerts (google.com/alerts) to stay on top of the latest blogs, videos, social media platforms and articles about key figures and places in their beat.

GOOGLE UNCLE SAM

Google Uncle Sam allows for easy searching of federal, state and local government information.

GOOGLE SQUARED

Google Squared is a dynamic tool that creates spreadsheets of pertinent data based on keyword searches. For example, one could search “civil war battles” and quickly find information about the location, results and outcome of each.

GOOGLE PATENTS

Google Patents allows journalists to see familiar products through a different and more complete perspective. Everything from the Wiffle Ball Bat to the toaster oven is sketched out and described.

GOOGLE NEWS ARCHIVE SEARCH

Google News Archive Search saves Web surfers a trip to the library to scour through miles of microfilm. The tool allows people to see when keywords were the most popular and read news articles from a given period in time.

GOOGLE TRENDS

Google Trends and Google Insights are two tools that allow users to see the popularity of specific search terms and websites over time.

GOOGLE FLU TRENDS

Google Flu Trends allows for near-real-time monitoring of the spread of the flu. Is the flu hitting your region?

GOOGLE LABS

Of course, there are countless more Google tools available, with more coming every week. To stay abreast of the latest and greatest, be sure to follow Google Labs,where the latest developments are shared.

Journalists should also build the most popular social media entities, including Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, into their own custom wire services with news coming in about the subjects they are most interested in.

However, it is daunting and impossible to stay on top of the latest flow of information on the networks around the clock. Fortunately there are many free tools available to ensure reporters don’t miss a tweet.

Among the best sites and applications: Kurrently.com, Monitter.com, Tweetdeck.com, Hootsuite.com and Pipl.com. Although these entities serve different functions, together they help keep reporters in tune with the latest information about a given topic in real-time — especially when used in tandem with Google Alerts.

As the world expects more video and real-time information, one video-streaming site is growing increasingly important to have in every journalist’s arsenal. UStream.com allows users to stream video at any time from a smartphone, to include a live chat, a survey and then to archive and share videos later. It’s a broadcaster’s dream. A similar option is Qik.com.

Of course, new, more dynamic sites are developing by the day, and it is critical to stay connected with the latest sites and applications in the news-gathering arena. Don’t fear the developments, but embrace them knowing that you will be among the first to learn about them and best equipped to use them as an active member of the digital journalism community.

Jamie DeLoma is the president of SPJ’s Connecticut Pro Chapter and a member of the Digital Media Committee. He is the assistant director of public relations and social media and an adjunct professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., and a part-time A1 copy editor, page designer and technology blogger for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group. He is also a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association. You can join him on Twitter at @jdeloma and learn more about him at jamiedeloma.com.

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