Toolbox Newsletter: Issue VII

Aug. 25, 2020

Insomnia and Building Mobile Web Apps …

Normally a deep sleeper, my sleep pattern sometimes gets off-schedule for a day or two during the pandemic. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, and, well, there ain’t much to do at that time of day.

So I built an app. And, yes, there’s a web app for that.

Actually, it’s a website,, a tool I mentioned in our last newsletter. The free version lets you build a web-based mobile app you can save to your phone or tablet home screen using nothing more than a spreadsheet.

Below is a screengrab of one I am building of our SPJ Fellows of the Society, a deep archive of past winners of the prestigious award. (Some heavy-hitters on there: Woodward & Bernstein, Cronkite, Bradlee, Red Smith and a great list of 2020 honorees.)

Jeremy Caplan at CUNY gave me a heads-up on this tool a few weeks ago.

I’m going to teach it to my students this fall and have them build mobile apps of election polling places, COVID-19 testing sites, track BLM protests and much more.

The site walks you through the basic steps to load the spreadsheet and offers many settings for colors, design and more. You can add graphics and maps, and you can customize the web address to a particular name. A paid version gives the option to customize an entire URL.

Take it for a spin. We’ll be launching the SPJ Fellows of the Society app in the Fall, and I’ll share it here. Stay tuned …

Bad Data Viz/Good Data Viz

I love the site, a graveyard for bad online and TV visualizations.

I share it with my UIC data journalism students every fall on the first day of class, which happens to be TODAY. I think there’s a lot to learn from bad visualizations. TedEd talks about how to spot misleading graphics in this video.

And THEN they learn how to build good data viz (see below).

Around the Web

In Quotes …

“Everything is being compressed into tiny tablets. You take a little pill of news every day - 23 minutes - and that's supposed to be enough.”

— Walter Cronkite


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